Published by Environmental Policy Institute.

Eight hundred million curies of deadly high-level radioactive wastes are stored in the Savannah River Plant (SRP). Although 27 million gallons of these wastes constitute about one third of the total volume of military high-level radioactive wastes in the U.S., they contain about 78 percent of the total radioactivity in all U.S. military high-level wastes. SRP’s high-level wastes pose a serious threat to the plant’s workers, to the people who live in substantial portions of South Carolina and Georgia, to future generations and to the environment. The rates of radiation=-related cancers among workers are already significantly higher than expected. The plant site borders the Savannah River and sits atop the Tuscaloosa aquifer, one of the most prolific and used sources of fresh water in the eastern United States. The 300 square mile site and the shallow aquifers above the Tuscaloosa are so severely contaminated that it is reasonable to conclude that it has been treated by the federal government as a national sacrifice area for the US. nuclear weapons program.

The high-level radioactive wastes which continue to build up at the Savannah River Plant result from the production of radionuclides for the US. nuclear weapons program, In particular most of the wastes come from the production of plutonium in nuclear reactors and the subsequent reprocessing of the reactor fuel rods in chemical separations plants. The SRP is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and operated under contract by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont). Most of the major equipment–such as the reactors and reprocessing plants, as well as many of the tanks, date back to the 1950s. This is a field in which technological change and safety standards have changed rapidly. Yet in recent years the basic approach to waste management at the Savannah River Plant Tank Farm has changed but little. In fact, the operating record of the obsolete facility shows that its very design basis was faulty and dangerous.

There is also substantial evidence that these problems have been compounded by unsatisfactory management in many areas crucial to safety. Both DuPont and DOE appear to be more anxious to minimize any adverse consequences and thus allay public fears than to address operating problems and risks from accidents in a scientific and technically responsible manner.

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