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Editorial: Energy Department takes steps in waste cleanup at SRS

SRS Sign, Vahid Pit Talk

The Savannah River Site is a 310-square-mile nuclear complex located south of Aiken.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it was reinterpreting the term “high-level radioactive waste.” That’s big news for the nation, and that’s even bigger news for the CSRA, no stranger to federal affairs and home to a historied nuclear workforce.

The revised interpretation will allow the DOE to classify wastes by their radioactive risks and characteristics, not just their provenance, as has long been the case. Doing so brings the U.S. into alignment with international practice.

Paul Dabbar, the Energy Department’s under secretary for science, has described the reinterpretation as the “science-based approach.”

It should be noted that the new interpretation does not immediately change the landscape. It would be applied waste by waste, officials have said, and only after careful consideration and study.

The first waste up for review, you ask? It’s at the Savannah River Site, our forever neighbor.

The Energy Department is studying whether thousands of gallons of wastewater produced at an SRS facility is safe enough to transport out of South Carolina, pre- or post-treatment. It’s a move that could hasten the site’s cleanup, slash costs and sway similar nuclear sites across the nation.

Six national labs under the DOE, including Savannah River National Laboratory, support the reinterpretation.

It’s also a move we welcome, and we hope it helps move the SRS cleanup mission along. While the new DOE outlook might put pressure on states with storage facilities – Texas, Utah – reducing risk at the site, environmental, for example, is a good thing.

But, with that said: We want the review process to be rigorous, educated and far from furtive.

Renaming high-level radioactive wastes may bring SRS closer to meeting the government’s remediation goal, but changing a name just for the sake of it – or to skirt corners – is unwise.

The community needs to pay attention. This matters to us. Stay informed. By the numbers: letters of support from six nuclear labs, a joint letter of opposition from five environmental groups, including Savannah River Site Watch and more than 5,000 comments submitted on the reinterpretation within 90 days. About 360 of those comments were distinct – unrepeated and unique, basically.

That sort of public engagement is to be cheered.

We still believe outcries of support and opposition can be heard in Columbia and in D.C. Decisions today regarding SRS will impact generations. More engagement on this topic, now more than ever, is something we welcome and intend to amplify.

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