Originally created 09/22/99

Officials to recommend replacement



After more than a year of research, Savannah River Site officials soon will recommend a replacement for a failed $500 million plant at the federal nuclear-weapons site.

Executives at Westinghouse Savannah River Co. will issue a report in early October about three methods being evaluated as possible replacements for the In-Tank Precipitation Facility, said Steve Piccolo, deputy manager for Westinghouse's high-level waste division.

Westinghouse operates SRS for the U.S. Department of Energy, which owns the site.

The site's In-Tank plant, which was supposed to treat some highly radioactive liquid waste, was declared inoperable in early 1998 because workers could not prevent flammable benzene from building up inside its tanks.

Some cost estimates for a replacement plant are as high as $1 billion.

Initial testing of all three replacement methods is complete, and all three remain promising, Mr. Piccolo told members of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board on Tuesday.

But some methods will be more expensive -- and less effective -- than others, Mr. Piccolo said.

"All of these technologies can be made to work," he said. "There are cost tradeoffs that you have to make."

One method, "small-tank precipitation," is similar to the failed In-Tank method, but is engineered with the failures of its larger ancestor in mind, Mr. Piccolo said. The tanks are smaller, and waste treatment would be quicker, reducing benzene buildup, he said.

"The biggest issue is perception," he said. "The technology didn't fail us. What failed us was the application of it."

The Citizens Advisory Board, which advises the Energy Department and other agencies that regulate SRS, is considering the creation of a second citizens' focus group to study the In-Tank issue.

A previous group determined SRS executives had used a prudent process to select possible replacements for the In-Tank plant. The new group would examine other areas, even delving into whether SRS officials had made changes necessary to prevent another $500 million mistake from occurring.

Ethan Brown, director of the Energy Environment Project in Columbia has been tapped as a leader for the proposed group.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.