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Our Earth – Cold War Cleanup at Savannah River

April 12, 2012

Our Earth

Our Earth – Cold War Cleanup at Savannah River

Major Cold War Cleanup Milestone Reached at the Savannah River Site

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Energy Department announced it has reached a major milestone in the Department’s efforts to clean up the Cold War legacy at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, laying the groundwork for closing two underground storage tanks that previously held radioactive liquid waste from nuclear weapons production at SRS. The determination signed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu paves the way for SRS to begin closing the massive tanks that make up the F Tank Farm. The site will start this year by closing two tanks that pose the greatest risk to the environment – Tanks 18 and 19. These tank closures will be the first DOE tanks closed nationwide since 2007, the first closed at SRS in 15 years, and some of the largest underground storage tanks closed by the Department to date.

Under Secretary for Nuclear Security at the Department of Energy Thomas D’Agostino made the announcement on a press conference call today with Karen Patterson, Chair of the South Carolina Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council.

“Today, we are able to announce a major milestone as we continue to clean up the legacy of the Cold War at the Savannah River Site and work to meet our responsibility to the citizens of South Carolina,” said Secretary Chu. “The Department of Energy, federal and state regulators, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the local community all played a key role in arriving at this important decision. As a result of these efforts and significant collaboration over many years, we are now able to move forward to safely, effectively and efficiently clean up and close these massive tanks.”

“South Carolina has looked forward to this day for a long time. We appreciate the dedication of everyone involved with the project, and the positive working relationships among all the entities – without genuine dedication and a positive approach, success would have been much more difficult. We also greatly appreciate that South Carolina and local stakeholders were included in all aspects of the process. The result is a good decision that we hope means many more successful tank closures in the near future,” said Chairwoman Patterson.

About 70 SRS, contractor, and construction employees are working on the final closing of Tanks 18 and 19, which is expected to take about five months. The work will include up to six cement trucks an hour, working eight hours a day, five days a week, pouring more than 3 million gallons of grout to fill the waste tanks. Each tank originally held about 1.3 million gallons of radioactive hazardous waste, or enough to fill nearly two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Workers have removed more than 99 percent of the liquid waste in the tanks. Tanks 18 and 19 will now be grouted, or filled with a cement-like material, to ensure the remaining residual waste film is immobilized and poses little to no future risk to the environment or the public.

SRS was constructed in the early 1950s to produce basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons in support of our nation’s defense programs. Tanks 18 and 19, two of the many nuclear facilities constructed at the site to support the United States Cold War effort, were built in the late 1950s to store radioactive liquid waste generated through the site’s nuclear weapons material processing.

The determination announced today allows SRS to complete cleanup and closure of Tanks 18 and 19 by the end of this year and the remaining 18 tanks in the F Tank Farm over the next several years as they are emptied and cleaned. Prior to the decision, the Department and SRS conducted extensive technical environmental analysis, public review and comment, and consultation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The state of South Carolina and the Environmental Protection Agency were also included in and supportive of the decision to close the tanks

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