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Monitoring Surrounding Savannah River Nuclear Site

The Savannah River Site (SRS) is a 310 square mile Department of Energy (DOE) facility located in Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell counties.  As a result of the Cold War and pre-regulated activity, SRS accumulated significant environmental liabilities, including 37 million gallons of high level waste (radioactive and toxic) in aging underground storage tanks, over 12,000 cubic meters of legacy transuranic waste, and over 500 contaminated sites.

Today, SRS is covered by a wide array of air, water, and waste permits that govern environmental management to current standards.  However, cleanup of the site will continue until the 2060's and requires significant DOE and DHEC resources.

A focus for DHEC has been timely treatment of the 37 million gallons of liquid high level waste (HLW) and closure of the storage tanks, some of which have leak sites.  DHEC has several regulatory mechanisms that require treatment and closure on a schedule in accordance with DHEC approved plans.  DHEC has worked with DOE to develop plans that reduce risk and minimize residuals in South Carolina.  Under a Consent Order, this waste must be treated by 2028.  Since 1996, a vitrification facility has operated to treat the sludge portion of this waste to a glass form.  The treated glass waste form is intended to be disposed in a federal repository.  A second large facility is being constructed under a DHEC approved schedule to treat the remainder of the waste at a cost of $1.2 billion.  Both facilities will have to operate at high capacities to achieve the 2028 treatment milestone.  DOE is also under an approved schedule for closure of 22 tanks by 2022. The closure of two tanks in 2012 marked the first successful HLW tank closures at SRS since the late 1990's.  Two more tanks were closed in 2013, one tank was closed in 2015, and one was closed in 2016, bringing the total number of closed tanks to eight.  Each of these closures represents significant work on the part of DHEC, the Environmental Protection Agency and DOE, along with public review and input.

Another significant legacy waste at SRS is transuranic waste (TRU), some of which is both toxic and radioactive.  The legacy of TRU waste stored at SRS has been reduced from over 12,000 cubic meters to 616 cubic meters with waste disposed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.  Shipment of TRU waste to WIPP is currently on hold due to incidents at the WIPP facility in February 2014.  SRS has completed all field activities and will have all its legacy TRU waste certified and ready to ship once WIPP is re-opened.  Waste will be safely stored at SRS until it can be shipped to WIPP.  DHEC has facilitated flexibility within the regulations to enable expedited preparation of this waste for shipment to New Mexico.  With respect to high level waste and transuranic waste, a December 20, 2010 letter from DOE to Governor Haley stated that "The Department of Energy (DOE) has achieved this level of progress through collaboration with the Governor's Nuclear Advisory Council (GNAC), chaired by Mr. Ben Rusche, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control…"

Contaminated sites at SRS are cleaned up under a Federal Facility Agreement (FFA). On August 16, 1993, the FFA, a three party agreement between the DOE, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DHEC, became effective.  The Agreement required DOE to establish a procedural framework and schedule for characterizing and remediating all releases of hazardous substances as defined by the Comprehensive Environmental Responses, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and all hazardous wastes and hazardous waste constituents as defined by the Resource Conservations Recovery Act (RCRA).  As of the end of fiscal year 2015, 412 of the 515 waste units (80%) at SRS have been evaluated and remediated per the FFA.  This level of cleanup has been accomplished by a highly efficient cleanup core team that integrates agency and program requirements into one process.  The team has finished several large projects (T and M Areas) ahead of schedule at significant cost savings.  Additionally, the in situ stabilization of the P and R reactor buildings and disassembly basins was completed in 2011 and 2010, respectively, marking the first successful closure of plutonium production reactor buildings for national defense within the DOE complex nationwide.

Due to the unique nature of activities at SRS, DHEC's emergency preparedness personnel maintain the capability to assess radiological incidents and communicate regularly with SRS to be aware of current issues.  DHEC also conducts independent environmental surveillance and oversight (ESOP) that performs radiological and non-radiological monitoring (air, soil, water, fish, game, vegetation, milk, sediments, drinking water) on and around SRS.  To date, the results of the monitoring have been consistent with those reported by SRS.

While removal of high level waste remains a critical activity warranting additional resources, the extent of cleanup and regulatory oversight at SRS would not be possible without additional targeted resources.  DHEC receives DOE grant money in support of the cleanup, emergency response, and environmental monitoring programs described above.

Environmental Surveillance and Oversight Program Overview

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's Environmental Surveillance and Oversight Program (ESOP) supports and complements the agency's comprehensive regulatory program at the Savannah River Site (SRS) by focusing on those activities not supported or covered through our normal regulatory framework.

ESOP's primary function is to evaluate the effectiveness of SRS monitoring activities. To accomplish this, we:

  • Conduct non-regulatory monitoring activities on and around SRS
  • Conduct evaluations of the SRS monitoring program
  • Provide an independent source of information for the public pertaining to levels of contaminants in the environment from historical and current SRS operations.

Our monitoring activities include airgroundwaterdrinking water, radiological surface water, non-radiological surface water,soil and sedimentmilkvegetation, and fish and game. Each year we conduct a critical pathway/dose assessment to calculate the potential exposure or dose to the public within 50 miles of an SRS center point.