Recent news of radionuclide leakage from a vault at the Savannah River Site brings up several interesting points.


Here’s the general information: the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, also known as SRS, identified the leak back in February. Department officials stated the problem stems from cracks in the roof of Vault 4.


On July 31, SRS submitted a letter to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control outlining the issue and the Site’s repair efforts. Workers are repairing the cracks by pouring a new concrete cap on the degraded sections of the vault and applying a sealant to those leaking sections. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy has stated that it has increased monitoring of the vault roof and will aggressively make necessary repairs to lessen potential leakage in the future. The department is also looking to modernize vault designs to increase safety levels.


With so many budget issues and cutbacks surrounding the Site, it is refreshing to see the Department of Energy taking progressive steps in solving this key issue. SRS’s liquid waste contractor, Savannah River Remediation, further stated that Vault 4, as well as the other vaults, have been and continue to be inspected on a routine basis during all operations.


The contractor also stated that the Department of Health and Environmental Control is inspecting the vault monthly to further ensure safety.


The Department of Energy and SRS have received nods from several parties on efficiency, including Friends of the Earth member Tom Clements, who stated “SRS acted responsibly in identifying the degradation in the vault and in addressing the problems.”


Overall, SRS should be acknowledged for the identification and treatment of the radionuclide leak. With that said, one of the Site’s continuing impediments from a public standpoint, is its lack of transparency. While security is warranted in many cases, SRS would likely stand to gain more community support if issues such as these were brought to light sooner rather than later.


The information was technically accessible to some degree; however, a larger wealth of knowledge was provided after the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request last month. The request, filed by Clements, was approved, and prompted SRS to release information on the leak. The recent leak is reminiscent of SRS’s failed security test earlier this year. The test was conducted in January and public knowledge was also limited until a watchdog agency uncovered the findings in July.


While neither issue appears to be overly threatening, SRS would be taking even more progressive steps if the public received word of these incidents straight from the source, rather than keeping quiet until an outside source uncovers the info.