An Energy Department project to dispose of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear-weapons production work in South Carolina is decades behind schedule, the New York Times reported late last week.
Begun in 1996, the project at the Savannah River Site aims to stabilize the liquid waste by solidifying it into a form that cannot be dissolved. While the nuclear cleanup effort was initially predicted to be completed 25 years later, officials now say it will not be finished before well into the 2040s. By that time, the subterranean containers that are holding the nuclear waste will be 90 years old.
"I don't know what the tanks' design life was intended to be, but it's not for infinity," Catherine Templeton, director of South Carolina's Health and Environmental Control Department told the Times.
She said the storage vessels have developed leaks and could threaten the nearby groundwater.
South Carolina has warned that it could levy $154 million in fines on the U.S. government for not keeping to its own schedule for disposing of the waste. The disposition plan calls for the radioactive material to be combined with liquid glass and then for the mixture to be poured into steel containers.
DOE officials in turn have blamed the schedule slippage on insufficient funds provided by Congress thanks to a 2011 limit on defense spending and the 2011 Budget Control Act.
"There's only so much to go around," said Terrel Spears, a DOE waste-disposition official in South Carolina. "We can't increase the budgets. Now we have to balance the budgets."
South Carolina officials contend that some of the federal funding that should have gone to the Savannah River Site cleanup was instead given to another nuclear-weapons waste disposition project at the Hanford Site in Washington.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.