Originally created 04/05/06

Burying waste is faulted

AIKEN - A committee of experts from academia and industry is concerned about the amount of radioactive Cold War waste that could be buried at Savannah River Site.

In a report requested by Congress that was released Tuesday, the National Research Council said the Department of Energy should reconsider a plan to empty tanks of some of the 36 million gallons of waste left over from the processing of plutonium, uranium and other materials.

The report specifically questioned the effectiveness of a proposed interim method intended to separate high- and low-level radiation in the waste.

The process, commonly referred to as DDA, would send some radioactivity to a grouted vault for burial and higher levels to a separate facility that packages it to be shipped out of state.

But the amount of radioactivity for burial is of a "magnitude more than originally was envisioned" with the preferred process, the council's report states.

The preferred long-term process, the Salt Waste Processing Facility, is being redesigned and has been delayed by about two years, until 2011.

It is supposed to send less radioactivity to the burial ground than the interim proposal.

The Energy Department intends to send an estimated 2.7 million curies (a measurement of radioactivity) for burial in grouted vaults, though that number could rise as high as 5 million curies, SRS officials have said. Officials plan to ship about 400 million curies out of state.

The research council also recommended that the Energy Department wait on future technologies that might get more radioactivity out of the tanks before permanently sealing them with grout.

The council's report said the Energy Department should spend millions of dollars over the next 10 years to research better cleanup methods.

The Energy Department took issue with that recommendation.

"We believe that cleaning and closing tanks now ... outweighs the risk associated with waiting for incremental improvements in waste removal technology," spokeswoman Megan Barnett said in a statement.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

About the report

The National Research Council, which explored the Department of Energy's handling of nuclear waste, included professors of biology, engineering and law, other scientists and industry representatives. It was organized by the National Academy of Sciences and requested by Congress.


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