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About DHEC

Savannah River 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 11,000 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 2030'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 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. 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. Two tanks were closed in 1997. The treated glass waste form is intended to be disposed in a federal repository (Yucca Mountain). Yucca Mountain is the issue that precipitated a study by the Blue Ribbon Commission and a lawsuit to which South Carolina is a party.

Another significant legacy waste at SRS is transuranic waste (TRU), some of which is both toxic and radioactive. Over half of the original 11,000 cubic meters has been disposed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The vast majority of TRU waste is scheduled for disposal by September 2012. 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 March 2011, 375 of the 515 waste units (72%) 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.

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 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 fairly consistent with those reported by SRS.

The extent of DHEC 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.