Today, the storied Savannah River Site begins a new chapter in cleaning up from the Cold War by reducing the South Carolina’s single greatest environment risk.
At SRS – near Aiken, S.C., next to the Savannah River – we mark what we call the operational closure of two, million-gallon waste tanks. These two tanks once held hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-level liquid radioactive waste, the byproduct of decades of nuclear weapons materials production at SRS.
SRS has been a part of South Carolina lore for more than 60 years. It was the location designated by the federal government to help produce nuclear materials for the weapons stockpile, a mission tied to winning the Cold War. Today, SRS has about 37 million gallons of this waste stored in 47 tanks at SRS. Each tank is so large you could fit a high-school basketball court inside one of them.
DURING THIS SUMMER, the two tanks we call Tanks 18 and 19 were filled with a cementlike grout, never to be used again. Today, we are officially celebrating that closure milestone with employees, stakeholders and others.
This work allows us to protect people and the environment.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded a contract to the URS Corp.-led Savannah River Remediation in 2009 to disposition the waste and to close the waste tanks. It’s an immense challenge, but Savannah River Remediation is making tremendous headway. Our mission is to treat the waste, empty the tanks and prepare them for closure.
The first two waste tanks in the country were closed at SRS in 1997 by a legacy company of Savannah River Remediation. Since that time, nine more tanks have been closed in Idaho, and now two more closures here. We expect the pace to begin to pick up at SRS with two more tank closures next year. That’s a testament to the expertise and knowledge shared by all the companies directly involved in the tank closure process across the nation.
It takes technical expertise to safely perform this high-hazard work. That know-how comes from Savannah River Remediation employees, who are the best in the world at what they do. They represent a treasure trove of ability and knowledge.
IN ADDITION, THERE is a team of major national corporations that compose Savannah River Remediation – URS is teamed with Bechtel National; CH2M HILL; and Babcock and Wilcox, along with critical subcontractors AREVA; Energy Solutions; and URS Professional Solutions. These companies give Savannah River Remediation the well-rounded ability to meet the goals of the DOE; the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
On a personal note, I have been at SRS for 31 years, and I know our employees work safely, cost-efficiently and with a keen eye on protecting the workers, neighbors and our Earth. It’s the right thing to do.
Today is a significant day for SRS, the DOE, regulators and employees – all of us who live in this state and in the region surrounding SRS.
We are up to the challenge of continuing to reduce the risk this waste represents. You can count on us.
(The writer is president of Savannah River Remediation at Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.)