Health department: Waste, tank treatment a priority at SRS
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports it still intends to hold the Department of Energy accountable for requesting adequate funding for waste clean up and tank closures at the Savannah River Site.
Shelly Wilson, the federal facilities liaison for SCDHEC, said waste and tank treatment is still a top priority during day two of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board bimonthly meeting.
“We call it the 'single largest environmental threat in South Carolina,' so we focus on it because the schedule for risk reduction is important to us,” Wilson said. “We put the pressure on DOE to ask for funds, and we were very encouraged by the DOE budget request which is asking for an increase in funding.”
While more funding is a good thing, Wilson added that SCDHEC is concerned it still may not be enough to meet deadlines.
“We're thinking that it may not be enough, because in recent years, the budget has been suppressed and it may have slowed things down so much that the deadlines may not be met,” she said.
DHEC's firm position dates farther back to an Aug. 28 letter in which the department threatened to fine DOE over $150 million if certain milestones – including tank closures – were not met.
DOE-SR representative Doug Hintze said the issue is more of a schedule issue than a funding one.
“You have to remember that we faced issues, such as the lapse in appropriations recently, which impeded our progress to some degree,” he said. “So funding is not as much of a concern as scheduling.”
In addition to waste cleanup, Citizens Advisory Board members continued discussions on the fate of the weapons-grade plutonium that was intended for processing at the Mixed Oxide, or MOX, facility at SRS. The facility is being placed in a cold stand-by while officials look for alternative options to dispose of the plutonium.
While the facility is out of the purview of the Board, the possibility of the plutonium not being used and remaining at SRS is of relevance. That possibility prompted SCDHEC to write a letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz last week requesting more information on the plutonium.
“As long as MOX was the plan, my agency believed that the plutonium had value,” Wilson explained during the meeting. “Now, we have to question the status of that plutonium. We've asked DOE what they're going to do with it, and we're waiting on a response.”
DOE spokesperson Jim Giusti added that SRS is still waiting for decisions from headquarters on the fate of the plutonium and the MOX workforce which currently sits at about 1,800 workers.
“As soon as we get some information, we'll let you know,” Giusti told the Board. “Decisions are being made at the upper levels of DOE. At this point, we're waiting to get policy guidance from headquarters.”
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.