A new complex to process salt waste from Savannah River Site’s underground storage tanks won’t open in 2015 as planned and may require the U.S. Department of Energy to renegotiate cleanup commitments made to the state of South Carolina.
The department, as part of its ongoing effort to clean up Cold War waste in 47 underground tanks, is building a new Salt Waste Processing Facility that will replace interim components of its existing Saltstone Facility, which opened in 1990.
The new facility, with technology that will accelerate cleanup operations, has encountered challenges that included a two-year delay in delivery of storage tanks, which arrived in June. The new projected operation date is 2018.
Because of delays in the new facility the SRS Citizens Advisory Board has questioned whether continued delays would violate cleanup commitments made to the state of South Carolina.
In a Nov. 13 letter to the board, DOE-Savannah River manager David Moody said the Energy Department will discuss the regulatory impacts of the delay with South Carolina officials.
Under a Federal Facilities Agreement, the Energy Department has specified closure dates for the remaining tanks. Those projected dates may require updating if the 2015 opening date is no longer viable.
South Carolina authorities, meanwhile, aren’t happy with the newest delay.
“Because of the significance of the SWPF, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control holds an enforceable milestone for DOE to begin operation at this facility in 2015,” agency spokesman Jim Beasley told The Augusta Chronicle.
The Department of Energy has begun discussion with DHEC about a possible startup extension request, but has not formally submitted such a request, he said.
“DHEC expects DOE to make every effort to mitigate delay of SWPF startup, including pursuit of sufficient funding and exploration of technical options,” he said.
The existing saltstone facility, meanwhile, was reopened in September after a nine-month, $8 million project to improve its efficiency and capacity in preparation for its expanded role when the new plant is completed.
The improved facility processed 1.1 million gallons in September and October for a record two-month processing period, according to a news release from Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor.