Federal budget cuts mean less money to clean SRS waste tanks - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Federal budget cuts mean less money to clean SRS waste tanks

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Federal funding to clean up waste at the Savannah River Site has been upwards of $600 million a year. With that funding now under pressure, many worry delaying the clean up of radioactive waste could open the door to a large scale nuclear contamination disaster in South Carolina.

"I would say we probably have more nuclear waste than any state in the country," said Tom Clements, nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

In the state, there are 51 aging carbon steel tanks that contain close to 40 million gallons of waste.

"We have a total of four that we've removed all the bulk waste from, and cleaned; basically stabilized with grout," said Terrell Spears, waste disposition manager at the site.

"The tanks leak, and they have leaked," said Clements.

The price to clean each tank is about $30 million a tank, according to Spears.

Proposed federal cuts to the program would pull $100 million from that budget, testing the limits of these tanks already well beyond their life span.

"There's really two kinds of threats," said Clements. "Threats to the ground water, and threats of an explosion that would release high level nuclear waste into the atmosphere."

Environmental protection groups also worry cuts to nuclear storage programs around the nation will result in more waste being stored and treated in South Carolina.

"I don't think SRS should be bringing in more nuclear waste when there's a massive clean up job of the waste already at the site," said Clements.  

But site managers say they'll do the best with the budget they get and continue to monitor the tanks for any signs of leakage.

"Our current plans shows completing our mission with funding like that somewhere in the neighborhood of 2030-2035," said Spears.

Starting in 2015, there are clean up mile stones that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control will expect to see at the Savannah River Site. If budget constraints stall that clean up, fines of up to $100,000 per day could result against the Department of Energy.

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