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More than 1 million gallons of radioactive waste handled at Savannah River Site facility

SWPF Aerial, Angled, 1 Million Gallons, DOE Photo

An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site. (Photo provided/DOE)

More than 1 million gallons of radioactive waste have been handled and processed at the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site, after the workhorse plant was given the green light months ago.

The Department of Energy’s nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management, announced the achievement Tuesday.

The first batch of radioactive waste was transferred to the Salt Waste Processing Facility in October 2020, a major milestone after nearly two decades of broader work.

The Salt Waste Processing Facility – designed, built, commissioned and operated in the short term by Virginia-based Parsons – has been billed as the Savannah River Site’s cleanup keystone.

With it online, nearly all of the hazardous salt waste stored at the site south of Aiken is expected to be processed by 2031. Salt waste occupies a majority of tank space at the Savannah River Site, where plutonium for nuclear weapons was once produced.

“The success of SWPF to date enables the department to begin planning for closing the remaining SRS waste tanks at an unprecedented rate,” said Jim Folk, the assistant manager for waste disposition at the site. The facility, Folk noted, has performed largely as expected. There have been hiccups and hurdles, though.

Promptly and effectively addressing nuclear waste stored in aging tanks – at the Savannah River Site and at the Hanford site in Washington, for example – is among the Energy Department’s most significant challenges.

The department is responsible for the largest share of the federal government’s environmental liabilities, and Environmental Management’s slice, specifically, has grown at a rate that outpaces remediation spending, according to the Government Accountability Office.

“In summary, we found that DOE’s environmental liability is large and growing,” Nathan Anderson, a nuclear cleanup executive with the accountability office, wrote in a recent memo to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “In managing cleanup responsibilities related to this liability, DOE faces challenges in contract and project management.”

The nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site has been described as South Carolina’s single largest environmental risk.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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