Originally created 01/20/99

SRS may ship radioactive waste off site soon



Savannah River Site workers soon might be able to get rid of some of the site's radioactive waste if a New Mexico disposal facility opens as expected.

The site could begin shipping more than 8,000 barrels of waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., by fall, said Joseph D'Amelio of the solid waste division of Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

Mr. D'Amelio spoke to members of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board during a meeting in Aiken on Tuesday.

Westinghouse operates the 310-square-mile nuclear plant for the U.S. Department of Energy, which owns the site.

The Citizens Advisory Board, made up of residents throughout Georgia and South Carolina, makes recommendations to the Energy Department and SRS contractors about issues facing the site.

The site generated the New Mexico-bound waste during years of producing rare nuclear materials for the nation's nuclear-weapons program.

Most of the waste is clothing, rags, tools and trash that were exposed to radioactive plutonium during site operations, Mr. D'Amelio said.

Since January 1997, SRS workers have been removing the waste from storage, Mr. D'Amelio said. Workers install vents in the barrels to reduce potentially explosive buildups of gas inside, and also inspect them for possible leaks and to ensure that their contents meet the New Mexico plant's standards, he said.

Workers already have finished more than 6,600 barrels, and expect to finish all 8,800 barrels by summer's end, Mr. D'Amelio said.

Some hurdles remain before waste can be shipped off-site, Mr. D'Amelio said.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant still faces legal challenges from environmental groups, and officials from the plant and the federal Environmental Protection Agency must inspect SRS work to ensure that the barrels were inspected correctly, he said.

Brandon Haddock covers energy issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.