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Savannah River Site Begins Clean Up of Leftover Nuclear Waste

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The U.S. Department of Energy announced today it will permanently close two massive tanks of radioactive waste at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The tank closings are the first at the site in 15 years.

During the cold war, the Savannah River Site helped produce stockpiles of nuclear bombs. Dozens of radioactive storage tanks are leftover from that era. 

Tom D’Agostino, an official with the Department of Energy, says securing these first two tanks is important.

“We now understand what it takes to move forward, to get these tanks closed out, to get the regulatory pieces completed,” said D’Agostino. “We’re now in the position to apply that to other facilities.”

The plan is to pour millions of gallons of grout to fill the two tanks and stabilize the radioactive liquids. That will take about five months at a cost of roughly $50 million.

Close to 20 percent of the nation’s 247 waste storage tanks are at the Savannah River Site. D’Agostino says tanks that pose the greatest risk to the environment will take priority.

“This isn’t a matter of every 15 years two tanks gets closed. This is a matter of the tip of the iceberg.”

Meanwhile, policymakers are still in search of a permanent site to store the nation’s processed nuclear waste. For years, it was to be located in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, but those plans were scrapped in 2009.