Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– Cleanup efforts at Savannah River Site (SRS) scored a big victory as a House-Senate conference committee on the defense authorization bill adopted language allowing the efforts to continue. SRS is currently home to more than 37 million gallons of liquid waste.
Ninety-nine percent of the waste would be removed from the tanks and turned into glass logs for eventual shipment to the permanent long-term storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Some residual waste will remain in the tank and be mixed with concrete and grout.
The state of South Carolina, in consultation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), will have oversight over the low-level material. South Carolina will also have the final authority to issue or deny a permit for the tank’s closure.
Two of the Site’s 51 tanks were closed in a similar manner in the late 1990’s under the Clinton Administration.
The provision also calls for a third review, this one conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), on the cleanup process. The NRC and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFS) have already completed reviews and determined the process to be safe.
“This is a big day for environmental cleanup in South Carolina,” said Graham. “The agreement between the state and the Department of Energy ensures the tanks will be cleaned up in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner. Because of this agreement, we’re looking to do it 23 years ahead of schedule and at a cost savings to the taxpayer of almost $16 billion. It’s a good plan for the Site, state, and the nation.”
Graham noted the cleanup efforts had been supported by a broad coalition of South Carolinians including Governor Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), Attorney General Henry McMaster, Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives David Wilkins, Democrats and Republicans in the Aiken County legislative delegation, the mayor of Aiken, the chairman of the Aiken County Council, the mayor of Jackson, the SRS Retiree Association, and local Chambers of Commerce.
“Tank cleanup efforts at the Site have been at a virtual standstill,” said Graham. “It’s long past time we get the cleanup efforts moving forward again to protect our environment. Every day we delay just increases the risk to the local community and the Savannah River that these tanks, some of them fifty years old, will leak and create even greater problems down the road.”
“I’m very pleased state leaders came together to allow the site to be cleaned up decades earlier than expected,” said Graham. “"Governor Sanford deserves much credit for supporting policies that make environmental and economic sense to become reality. He is a thoughtful and courageous leader."
“We’ve come too far in our efforts to clean up the Site, using good science and sound economics, to be deterred by special interest groups who want to put cleanup on hold,” said Graham.
The House of Representatives and Senate are expected to overwhelmingly approve the legislation and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.