Patience needed with waste cleanup efforts

SUBMITTED PHOTO Construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility is currently 89 percent complete and is on track to be finished by May 2016.

The Savannah River Site and Aiken are inextricably tied. Issues related to funding, employment and mission opportunities at the Site shape and mold what Aiken and surrounding communities will look like moving forward.

That reality should reinforce the importance of the Site’s Salt Waste Processing Facility, a key operation there that is expected to process 90 percent of Cold War waste stored in more than 40 aging waste tanks.

This is a process that warrants patience and due diligence as it unfolds. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, or DHEC, rightfully recognized that needed mentality after it gave the Site a six-week pass on potential fines for failing to meet ongoing construction deadlines. To get to closure, the Site’s workers must remove highly radioactive waste from tanks. This is a delicate and time-consuming process.

It’s important for the Site to continue these efforts in order to ensure it remains a viable construction mission. The facility did fail to meet “startup milestones,” which were set for Oct. 31. However, because of the intricacies involved in the process, officials properly acknowledge that the deadlines should be delayed. DHEC said it will continue to closely monitor construction and may resort to fines if deadlines are not met. While it’s important to evaluate and review this process, the agency needs to continually be mindful of these complexities. Construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility is currently 89 percent complete and is on track to be finished by May 2016. It’s set to be operating by December 2018. But the facility has been plagued by cost overruns and delays, including a cost projection that states it is nearly $1 billion over budget. The facility was initially expected to cost $1.4 billion, but is now expected to cost about $2.3 billion.

While it’s important to be mindful of cost overruns, it’s also vital for the Site to be in business and work toward continuing its cleanup efforts. Once commissioned, this facility will greatly increase the ability of site personnel to empty and close the Site’s high-level radioactive waste tanks. This is of particular value to not only the Site, but also to Aiken County and our region’s economic viability.

Continuing to identify the Salt Waste Processing Facility as a critical component of the Site’s portfolio will be imperative for future tank closures and risk reduction. Let’s hope any threat of future fines takes this fact into account.