AIKEN - Savannah River Site took another step Monday toward ensuring the safety of radioactive waste at SRS until it can be shipped to a permanent storage site in Nevada.
A second glass waste storage building, begun two years ago, was opened two months ahead of schedule and cost $8 million less than originally projected, said Jeffrey Allison, the U.S. Energy Department manager for SRS operations.
The storage facility houses immobilized radioactive nuclear waste dating back to the Cold War era in a glass matrix, or canister, Mr. Allison said.
To commemorate the occasion, SRS held a ribbon-cutting for the first shielded canister transporter, which moves the radioactive material to the glass waste storage facility. The canister is stored in an underground, reinforced concrete vault.
The process that stores the waste in glass reduces risks associated with storing radioactive material.
Each canister of radioactive sludge is 10 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter and weighs about 5,000 pounds. It takes a little more than a day to fill one canister.
Plans call for an underground radioactive storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada to be completed before 2010. It would house the SRS waste.
In March, however, officials said that the Yucca Mountain site, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, might not be completed until 2015 or even canceled altogether.
In 1997, Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the only permanent storage facility for high-level waste from nuclear weapons reservations and commercial reactors.
"We're planning that it will go to Yucca Mountain," Mr. Allison said. "Until then, it will be safe in Savannah River."
The glassification process began a decade ago at SRS.
"It was a painful process to get to that point," said Charles Anderson, the Energy Department's deputy assistant secretary for environmental management.
"We know (defense waste processing) can be done safely, quickly and cost effectively," Mr. Anderson said.
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PLENTY OF ROOM
The new glass waste storage building at SRS was originally budgeted at $77.3 million, but it came in at $68.8 million, SRS spokeswoman Julie Peterson said.
About $55 million of that was for actual construction.
The new glass waste storage building can house 2,340 canisters.
The first glass waste storage building holds 2,142 canisters.
At the current rate of production, the buildings aren't expected to reach capacity until 2015.
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