Taxpayers will spend $46.3 billion during the next four decades to clean up Savannah River Site, the Department of Energy estimated Monday.
Good news is, there's an end in sight for one of the largest environmental remediation projects the United States has ever undertaken. According to a draft cleanup strategy released Monday, Accelerating Cleanup: Paths to Closure, SRS expects to close the books on the Cold War in 2038.
By then, dozens of underground tanks will have been closed, and their waste stabilized and either shipped off or buried at the plant.
Millions of gallons of ground water will have been filtered free of toxins, and hundreds of polluted dumps cleaned and capped, SRS says.
After 2038, the only reminder of the nuclear arms race should be the ongoing monitoring and surveillance of some sites and possibly some ground-water cleanup, SRS says.
The plant's strategy is part of a national $147 billion plan to restore 53 Energy Department facilities that produced and developed nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
The plan was submitted Monday to Congress, which will have ultimate say about money for such projects.
The plan does not consider waste or pollution resulting from existing or future defense missions at such facilities.
"This cleanup mission is a significant challenge for the department," said John Pescosolido, SRS chief financial officer. "These are very large numbers when you're talking about radioactive contamination or other kinds of hazardous materials contamination. That's basically why it's going to take so long."
The $147 billion is a significant decrease from cost estimates a few years ago, which ran as high as $300 billion. The cost has come down, in part, because of new and more efficient ways to get the job done, the Energy Department says.
SRS, for instance, incorporated a $2.6 billion "saving" in its plan under the assumption that new technologies will be developed eventually.
Although it will be decades before SRS cleanup is completed, Mr. Pescosolido said substantial progress will have been made by 2006.
That year, 422 of 477 identified polluted sites at the plant will have been closed in accordance with state and federal law. More than 2,000 of nearly 6,000 canisters of glass waste to be produced at SRS' Defense Waste Processing Facility will be completed and nine of 51 waste tanks closed, he said.
If, that is, Congress provides sufficient money and if certain snags along the way can be worked out in time.
SRS recently acknowledged that a facility built to treat the bulk of the tank waste must be modified or replaced because of chemical problems, a process that could take years and potentially delay the high-level waste program.
Overall, though, the cleanup plan "looks pretty good," said Bill Lawless, a member of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board.
"It's good for the community for a number of reasons," he said. "Not only because there is an end in sight, but also because it makes you feel better about the relationship between the Department of Energy and the community."