Work begins on waste facility

Ground was broken Friday for a $345 million waste solidification building that will process liquid waste from a larger mixed oxide fuel facility designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.

The new building will occupy about nine acres and is the second building in the plutonium disposition complex being constructed in the site's F Area.

The MOX facility has been under construction since August 2007. The waste solidification facility will process low-level and liquid waste streams from that plant and related programs.

"This begins the second step in safely disposing of our legacy plutonium," said Chuck Munns, the president and CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the site's managing contractor. "This is a relatively small facility by design, but it's essential to the successful operation of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and pit disassembly operations."

The new building, scheduled for completion in 2013, will package some wastes for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Low-level waste will be packaged and sent to disposal areas within SRS or offsite.

The MOX facility, which is expected to open in 2016 at a cost of about $4.8 billion, is designed to dispose of about 75,000 pounds of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium by converting it for fuel use in commercial reactors.

The cleanup effort, which renders the dangerous material unusable for nuclear weapons, is part of a nuclear nonproliferation agreement between the United States and Russia to protect, secure and dispose of nuclear weapons material.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.