AIKEN - The federal government faces a growing shortage of space to dispose of low-level nuclear waste like that found at Savannah River Site, a Department of Energy report shows.
Faced with growing pressure from Congress to curb costs, the department set out during the past year to catalog the amount of waste across the country that had come in contact with radiation and figure out how much more would be generated.
Unlike high-level waste, which can be deadly, lower-level wastes include buildings, equipment and soil that contain trace amounts of radiation.
The database that resulted from the examination revealed that there is plenty of space but that it will become more scarce in 2010, when the Nevada Test Site, a primary disposal destination for some Energy Department installations, including SRS, will close.
"The department may have to consider other federal and commercial disposal options," the report states.
The report is still in its draft stage, though a final copy is expected in coming weeks. The department is using it to develop a cost analysis and manual that can be used to manage low-level waste.
Some say the department should gather more feedback from the communities that are affected by its plans before finalizing anything.
"They need to clearly tell communities how much more waste will be disposed of on site than many communities thought was planned," said Seth Kirshenberg, the executive director of the Energy Communities Alliance, a lobbying group in Washington that looks out for cities and counties located around DOE installations, including Aiken.
He said he spoke to department officials this week about the report. The officials indicated that they would be expanding existing waste sites, not opening new ones, Mr. Kirshenberg said.
As part of its outreach, he said, the department also needs to keep local communities in the loop about waste shipments. Emergency managers in Aiken County said DOE officials at SRS keep them up to speed.
"I'm satisfied with how they transport the waste," said David Ruth, Aiken County's emergency management coordinator. "I think they do a good job."
Between now and 2025, SRS estimates that it will dispose of more than 30,000 cubic meters of low level waste, according to the report. About 25,000 cubic meters of that is debris that could result from the demolition of unused Cold War-era buildings that would come down after 2010.
Much of it could be buried on site in protective vaults or slip trenches because of the low amount of radioactivity, the report said.
There are an additional 5,100 cubic meters, however, that are characterized as mixed-waste because it is contaminated with a hazardous material - lead or solvent, for example - in addition to radiation. That material must be shipped away.
To avoid any backlogs, SRS officials have made plans to ship most of the mixed-waste before 2010, when the Nevada Test Site will stop accepting it, said Mike Simmons, a waste manager for the Energy Department.
"I don't think there's any issues at all," Mr. Simmons said.
That could change as the site tears down more of the buildings it no longer uses.
"There's a big uncertainty when you get into the deactivation and demolition world," Mr. Simmons said.
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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