Salt waste plant can be finished

The U.S. Department of Energy gave a final go-ahead Tuesday to initiate the long-delayed full construction phase of Savannah River Site's $1.34 billion Salt Waste Processing Facility.

The 146,000-square-foot facility should go into operation in three to four years, according to department officials. The project was originally scheduled to be completed this year, but it was delayed and reworked over concerns about its design and vulnerability to seismic activity.

Parsons Infrastructure & Technology Group Inc. was selected in 2004 to design, construct, start up and operate the facility for one year. At its peak, the project will employ more than 400 construction and support personnel.

Of the 36 million gallons of radioactive Cold War nuclear waste in SRS tanks, 33 million gallons are liquid and salt cake suitable to enter the facility, which will separate high-activity radionuclides from low-activity salt waste. After separation, the high-activity salt waste will be encapsulated in glass at the Defense Waste Processing Facility and stored nearby until disposal in a geologic repository.

In September 2007, when the Energy Department initiated limited construction and procurement activities for the salt waste facility, Parsons had completed the concrete base mat of the Central Processing Area building, installed walls for the first floor and completed an emergency spillway and underground utilities for the administration building.

The facility is not the largest pending project at SRS. The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which will convert 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel, will cost about $4.8 billion.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.