The U.S. Congress has come together on a proposal that would allow the Department of Energy (DOE), with the consent of the State of South Carolina, to cover an unspecified fraction of the high-level nuclear waste currently stored in underground tanks at the Savannah River Site (SRS) with grout and leave it onsite permanently. Of particular concern regarding this waste is the nearby Savannah River, which is one of the most important water resources in the South and currently provides food and drinking water to people downstream of the Savannah River Site. It is claimed that grouting the tanks will safely immobilize the remaining high-level nuclear waste and prevent it from posing a danger to either human health or the environment. The reality, however, is that there is no valid scientific basis for such claims of safety and effectiveness of grout, and that even within the DOE complex the current lack of information regarding the long-term durability of the grout and its ability to immobilize radionuclides over hundreds to thousands of years is widely recognized. The current proposal can best be summarized as a continuation of what the National Research Council called the DOE’s “out of sight out of mind” philosophy of waste management. Once the tanks are grouted they will be virtually impossible to further remediate and therefore, from what we know the DOE doesn’t know about grout, no decision should be made on allowing this effort to proceed without a minimum of several years of additional laboratory and field-scale research.
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