South Carolina Radioactive Cleanup Decades Behind Schedule

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Dec. 3, 2013, 7:02 a.m.

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.

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