Federal budget constraints have mounted to more than $1 billion in deferred maintenance costs for Savannah River Site’s Cold War-era infrastructure, leading to more expensive future capital investments, according to a federal report projecting the next decade of activity at the Department of Energy site.
The report, compiled in June by site management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, highlights ongoing concerns with aging nuclear facilities at SRS, most of which were built more than 60 years ago. The deteriorating infrastructure, which the report said has hindered the site’s operational capabilities, needs significant reinvestment to safely support current and future missions.
Funds have been prioritized to support mission activities while the infrastructure continued to decline, according to the report. Safety issues related to the crumbling infrastructure have been identified by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board at H-Canyon processing facilities, high-level radioactive waste storage tanks and with fire protection water supply systems in A-area.
“As a result, cannibalization of parts, costly piecemeal maintenance, temporary modifications and in some cases workarounds have been performed in order to sustain functional performance of many facilities, equipment and systems,” the report says.
Energy Department spokesman Jim Giusti said in an e-mail to site stakeholders Tuesday that SRS is participating in a federal infrastructure assessment that will analyze infrastructure condition and functionality.
The report lists 39 priority infrastructure needs for the next two years, including replacing power supplies, upgrading fire water supplies, restoring leaking roofs, replacing and upgrading various components in H-Area and H-Canyon and upgrading air, steam, electrical and well water piping.
Rick McLeod, the executive director of the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, said the Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management has focused on waste cleanup missions at the site at the expense of maintaining facilities. The site’s future largely depends on investing in infrastructure, he said.
“If the site needs to be a long-term mission and not a closure site, we need to keep investing in the infrastructure,” McLeod said.
Many of the facilities built to support nuclear weapons production during the Cold War still have usable technology, he said. For instance, McLeod said H-Canyon could support future work, including an Energy Department proposal to accept German spent nuclear fuel shipments at SRS.
“There are issues out there that are 60 years old that need to be addressed, but it’s not the major facilities,” McLeod said, adding that new facilities are being built, such as the Salt Waste Processing Facility and mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility.
Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist and the director of the government watchdog group SRS Watch, said budget constraints aren’t easing, and securing money to maintain degrading infrastructure is not likely.
“Any problems they identify now, or in general, are just going to continue to get worse,” he said. “They are just running in place to keep things operable.”
Deferring maintenance puts site workers on the front line of associated safety issues, Clements said. As the site continues to age, environmental problems are also likely, he said.
“If the infrastructure continues to degrade, it will make it difficult to attract good missions to the site,” Clements said.