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Savannah River Site liquid waste program could get additional $20 million next year

Savannah River Site Entrance

The Savannah River Site's liquid waste disposal program would receive an additional $20.8 million in President Joe Biden's 2023 federal budget. 

President Joe Biden's 2023 budget includes an additional $20.8 million to support the liquid waste program at the Savannah River Site. 

Information provided by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates the department has requested $1.724 billion for the liquid waste program at the site compared to $1.702 billion the site will receive this year. 

The liquid waste program at the site works to remediate and safely store radioactive liquid nuclear waste that was produced when the site produced nuclear material for weapons, the space program and research.

Essentially, the site stores the liquid waste in 51 containers on site – eight have already been closed, and there are 43 operating containers. The Environmental Protection Agency regulations say some of the containers are not adequate to the task so the waste must be moved into safer containers. 

Two plants on the site work to do this: the the Defense Waste Processing Facility and the Salt Waste Processing Facility.

The defense facility works to combine the sludge, a substance in the tanks that measures around 8% of the volume of the tanks but 47% of the radioactivity, with a sand-substance by heating it to 1,200 degrees and then placing the combined product into secure containers to cool into a glass-like form. The site is set to store the containers until a national repository can be built. 

The salt facility handles the remaining liquid that contains 92% of the volume but only 53% of the radioactivity. After more radioactive material is removed, the liquid waste is converted into saltstone and securely stored underground at the facility. 

The proposed budget also includes $4.6 billion to fund site clearing, purchase of the items that take the longest to produce and design on plutonium pit production facilities at the Savannah River Site and the Los Alamos site in New Mexico.

It also includes a decrease of nearly $77 million ($148 million to over $71 million) to the department's non-proliferation and arms control efforts. A note adds this budget item supports the dilute and dispose program that works to remove plutonium from South Carolina.