DOE, DHEC reach agreement on SRS liquid waste

An agreement has been reached on treating more than 36 million gallons of radioactive and toxic liquid waste stored in aging Savannah River Site tanks.


The U.S. Department of Energy and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced the agreement Tuesday, according to a DOE news release. Under the agreement, SRS will process the liquid waste starting this year through 2022 to mitigate the delay in startup of the Salt Waste Processing Facility.

"DHEC's responsibility is to protect the environment and public health in South Carolina, and this agreement furthers our goal of maximized waste treatment on a timely schedule to lower the risk for the state," said DHEC Director Catherine Heigel. "We appreciate the DOE working with us to make important progress toward ensuring the long-term safety and health of South Carolinians."

In June, DOE completed construction of the processing facility, which will significantly increase processing rates in the effort to empty and close 43 remaining radioactive liquid waste tanks at SRS, the release stated. To date, DOE has closed eight High Level Waste tanks at SRS.

DOE agreed to a new timeline for treating the waste at the processing facility and committed to additional technological investments rather than litigate over penalties for missed deadlines, the DOE news release stated. The agreement paves the way for large-scale treatment to move forward without the delay and expense of litigation, furthering progress on tank closure and risk reduction.

"This agreement underscores our continued commitment to furthering the Department of Energy's environmental cleanup mission at Savannah River Site and reaffirms our good working relationship with South Carolina," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "We look forward to our ongoing collaborative work with South Carolina to identify and execute beneficial near-term and long-term environmental solutions in the state, advance new environmental science and technology at the Savannah River National Laboratory, and carry-out critical nuclear security missions."

DOE stated that under the agreement it is funding roughly $200 million of continuing work on innovative technologies that will make progress towards DOE's critical clean-up mission, including: Tank Closure Cesium Removal, new at-tank treatment capacity; Next Generation Solvent, an advancement that makes the waste processing facility more effective; and Sonar Mapping, which enables faster assessment of small remaining residuals at cleaned tanks, cutting time from tank closure.

Tom Clements, the director of Savannah River Site Watch, said he was surprised that DHEC didn't get more out of the agreement with DOE.

"While it is good that DHEC is providing oversight of the SRS cleanup, the citizens of South Carolina got less than desired out of the agreement with DOE as it basically affirms much of what DOE is on track to do any way," he said. "DHEC should have negotiated a penalty for DOE's failure to meet high-level waste management deadlines as this would have demonstrated firmness on the long-term SRS clean-up goals, of growing importance as pressure grows on the DOE budget. While the SWPF may well prove to increase HLW processing efficiency, DHEC must closely monitor the situation as the facility becomes operational and resolutely hold DOE to the new schedule commitments."