Savannah River Site Fact Sheet

The mission of NCSL’s Nuclear Legislative Workgroup (NLWG) is to provide legislative members with the opportunity to learn about the cleanup of federal nuclear weapons production and research facilities, the transportation and storage of radioactive wastes, and nuclear energy issues that affect our nation and states. This fact sheet is part of this effort.

Overview

The Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina was primarily built in 1950 to produce nuclear defense materials, mostly tritium and plutonium-239. Located on the border of Georgia, the 310-square-mile site contains more than 1,000 facilities and is one of South Carolina's largest employers. Today, SRS operates as an industrial complex providing nuclear national security and develops new technologies to support energy independence, medical research, materials for the space program and environmental cleanup. The site is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its Office of Environmental Management (EM) oversees cleanup activities at the site.

State: South Carolina
Size: 310 square miles
Original Purpose: Plutonium & Tritium production
Estimated Cleanup Completion: 2030

Scale of the Contamination

The cleanup at SRS has grouped waste sites into more than 90 operating unit areas. Approximately 37 million gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste is stored at the site in large underground tanks. More than 30,000 containers of transuranic (TRU) waste and 515 soil, groundwater and surface water waste units exist on site.

DOE’s Environmental Management Activities

The DOE EM’s mission at SRS is environmental cleanup, waste management, disposition of nuclear materials, and risk reduction.

Salt-Waste Processing Facility
The new Salt-Waste Processing Facility is now under construction and will become operational in 2015.  SWPF will decontaminate and disposition radioactive salt waste removed from SRS liquid waste tanks at a highly efficient capacity, drastically accelerating cleanup activities.
 
Consolidating and Processing Nuclear Materials
The SRS is accepting nuclear materials such as plutonium, enriched uranium and spent nuclear fuel from other sites for reprocessing. The reprocessed materials are stored on site, sent to off-site storage facilities, or shipped to commercial reactors for use as fuel.
 
Solid Waste Disposition
Remaining legacy wastes such as Transuranic (TRU) wastes are being shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for disposal. Complete disposition of contact-handled legacy TRU wastes is expected by September 2013.

Other Activities

National Nuclear Security Administration
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has two core missions at SRS. First, through its Defense Program Nuclear Weapon Stewardship, NNSA operates facilities to extract, process, and supply tritium. Second, NNSA’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Program is working to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. As part of these efforts, NNSA is constructing a MOX fuel facility that will convert nuclear weapons components to commercial nuclear MOX fuel; the MOX facility is scheduled for completion in 2016.
 
Savannah River National Laboratory
The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) is an applied research and development laboratory that supports EM’s technology needs for the SRS and other federal facilities across the country. SRNL has made advances in hydrogen technology, radioactive waste treatment, sensors and probes, and other fields that improve environmental characterization and cleanup.
 
Tritium
SRS is the nation’s only facility that extracts, recycles, purifies, and reloads tritium for the purpose of being replenished, recycled, and purified for suitable use. In addition, as tritium decays, Helium-3 gas is produced. SRS tritium programs recover, purify and bottle this by product that may be used in detection equipment to protect the United States and allies from terrorism. SRS is the sole producer of Helium-3 gas in the United States.

Timeline for Cleanup Completion

The cleanup of all inactive areas of the site is scheduled to be completed by 2030. Environmental monitoring of those areas with active operations, such as the MOX fuel facility, will continue beyond 2030.  Cleanup of the Savannah River Site began in 1981.