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Savannah River Site (USDOE)

Photos/Multimedia

K-Area Coal Pile Basin following a 1997 removal action at the Savannah River site (USDOE).
- Savannah River Job Training Initiative photos
- Site Cleanup photos
- Site Video

Additional Resources
Site Summary Profile

EPA ID: SC1890008989
Location: Aiken, Aiken County, SC
Lat/Long: 33.348880, -081.737780
Congressional District: 03
NPL Status: Proposed: 07/14/89; Final: 11/21/89
Affected Media: Debris, Ground water, Sediment, Sludge, Soil, Solid waste, Surface water
Cleanup Status: Physical cleanup activities have started
Human Exposure Under Control: Yes
Ground water Migration Under Control: No
Sitewide Ready for Anticipated Use: No
Site Reuse/Redevelopment: In continued use as a Federal Facility
Site Manager(s): Robert Pope (pope.robert@epa.gov)
Martha Berry (berry.martha@epa.gov), Cathy Amaroso (amoroso.cathy@epa.gov),
Rachel Hall (hall.rachel@epa.gov), James Barksdale (barksdale.james@epa.gov)



Current Status

The Savannah River Site is a secured U.S. Department of Energy facility. The facility historically produced tritium, plutonium and other special nuclear materials for national defense and the space program and is home to the Savannah River National Laboratory. SRS is owned by DOE and is managed and operated by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC. A range of nuclear-related research and production operations are ongoing at Savannah River Site. Past disposal practices at Savannah River Site resulted in significant site contamination. While considerable cleanup progress has been made since the 1980s, much additional cleanup work remains. Tanks containing highly radioactive liquid waste continue to be addressed. Multiple ground water plumes are being addressed; their cleanup will likely take decades. Nuclear reactors will be addressed in the future. U.S. Department of Energy has recently accelerated cleanup work because of significant funding made available to U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Site cleanup completion is currently scheduled for 2030. The summary sections below provide more details about Savannah River Site’s history and current status.

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Site Location

The Savannah River Site (SRS) is located near two growing metropolitan areas. It is located approximately 12 miles south of Aiken, South Carolina, and 15 miles southeast of Augusta, Georgia (See map (PDF) (2 pg, 777K, About PDF)). SRS occupies approximately 310 square miles of land adjacent to the Savannah River, principally in Aiken and Barnwell counties of western South Carolina. SRS is bounded on its southwestern border by the Savannah River, which is used as a drinking water supply source for some residents upstream of SRS. The river is also used for commercial and sport fishing, boating and other recreational activities. About 90 percent of SRS’s land area consists of natural forests and managed pine plantations. Approximately 10 percent of the total land area is developed or used for industrial facilities.developed or used for industrial facilities.

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Site Background

SRS facilities were constructed during the early 1950s to produce the basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239, for the nation’s defense programs. Five reactors were built on the site. The reactors produced nuclear materials by irradiating target materials with neutrons. Other facilities built included two chemical separation plants, a heavy water extraction plant, a nuclear fuel and target fabrication facility and waste management facilities. Production of nuclear materials for the defense programs was discontinued in 1988. Since 1988, non-defense-related activities have continued at SRS. SRS has provided nuclear materials for the space program, as well as for medical, industrial and research efforts up to the present day. SRS currently employs over 11,000 people and is one of the largest employers in South Carolina. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC (SRNS) is responsible for site management and operations and employs a majority of the site’s workforce. SRS was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL) of contaminated sites in 1989.

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Threats and Contaminants

Chemical and radioactive wastes are byproducts of nuclear material production processes. These wastes have been treated, stored and, in some cases, disposed of at SRS. Past disposal practices resulted in significant site contamination. In 1981, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) began inventorying waste sites; a total of 515 waste sites were ultimately identified. These range in size from a few square yards to tens of acres; they include basins, pits, piles, burial grounds, landfills, tanks and associated ground water contamination. Of particular concern are “high-level” waste tanks which store highly radioactive liquid waste and are considered by DOE and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) as the greatest human health risk in South Carolina. Initial cleanup activities were led by DOE under a federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit in 1985. Since that time, DOE has initiated cleanup actions addressing contamination and disposal issues under both RCRA and the federal Superfund law (CERCLA).

Site investigations identified contamination in ground water, sediments, soils, sludge, solid waste, debris and surface water that could potentially harm people in the area. Contaminants of concern identified include: arsenic, benzo(a)pyrene, cadmium, cesium, chromium, cobalt, dichloroethylene, lead, mercury, plutonium, potassium, radium, thorium, trichloroethylene, uranium and vinyl chloride. Multiple buildings and facilities at SRS have been contaminated with radioactive contaminants of concern, including cadmium, cesium, cobalt, cesium, plutonium, tritium and uranium.

To address risks associated with contamination at SRS, the cleanup plan below was developed.

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Investigation and Cleanup Responsibility / Oversight

EPA, SCDHEC and DOE are investigating and addressing SRS’s contamination and cleanup under the terms of a Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA). The FFA is required by CERCLA and encompasses all operable units on SRS and includes a special section on the High Level Waste Tanks.  The FFA also includes an enforceable schedule for cleaning up all operable units at SRS.  The schedule is updated annually by DOE and approved by EPA and SCDHEC.  DOE-SRS has a strong working relationship with EPA and SCDHEC. As lead agency under CERCLA, DOE retains the responsibility to cleanup SRS.  EPA and SCDHEC are the oversight regulators for the cleanup of SRS per CERCLA as detailed in the FFA.

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Site Cleanup Plan

Site investigations and cleanup activities at SRS have grouped waste sites together into over 90 areas, which are also referenced by EPA as operable units, or OUs. These OUs are located within major industrial areas at the site (e.g., T-Area, L-Area, C-Area). See map of major SRS industrial areas (PDF) (2 pg, 770K, About PDF). Since 1992, over 60 Records of Decision (RODs) for SRS have been issued, describing the preferred cleanup approach for specific parts of the site. The RODs predominantly address OUs located in major SRS industrial areas. A ROD may address a single OU or multiple OUs, and a single OU may include multiple waste sites. The most recent SRS RODs issued describe the preferred cleanup approach for OU-92 (the M Area, a former production area for uranium targets) and OU-94 (the P Area, a former plutonium production reactor area). Between 2011 and 2013, eight additional RODs are expected to be issued.

Summaries of other OUs and selected cleanup approaches are available online in site RODs and Five-Year Reviews. In addition, more detail is provided below regarding specific site cleanup strategies recently initiated at SRS, including Area Completion Projects and Deactivation and Decommissioning.

Area Completion Projects

Cleanup activities are led by the DOE/SRS Area Completion Project (ACP). The ACP is an integrated group that incorporates the former SRNS Deactivation & Decommissioning organization with the former SRNS Soil and Groundwater Closure Projects organization. ACP focuses on reducing the footprint of legacy waste at SRS’s contaminated waste sites and obsolete facilities. The approach for soil and ground water cleanup is to treat or immobilize contamination source areas and clean up or slow the movement of contamination that has already migrated from the source areas. The approach for deactivating facilities is to safely remove hazards such as hazardous and radioactive waste, nuclear materials, and contaminated equipment and debris and to bring facilities to a cold and dark condition. This includes the deactivation and decommissioning of industrial, radiological and nuclear facilities.

The ACP is using an Area Completion Strategy to accelerate the cleanup of SRS. The strategy concentrates on closing entire industrial areas of SRS, one at a time. Areas at the periphery of SRS are being addressed first: T-Area, D-Area, A-Area and M-Area. In addition, P-Area and R-Area have been identified as the first reactor areas to be addressed through deactivation and decommissioning under the Superfund program. Portions of F-Area are also undergoing intense deactivation and decommissioning because of the opportunity presented for major risk elimination.

To support ACP and the Area Completion Strategy, DOE/SRS effectively executes work with EPA and SCDHEC through the implementation of a Core Team process. This process and relationship greatly enhance communication and productivity to streamline the Superfund documentation process. The Core Team process also facilitates cleanup problem solving at an early stage.

In 2003, the parties signed a Memorandum of Agreement to accelerate cleanup at SRS. The parties have worked together to develop a Comprehensive Cleanup Plan, a Program Performance Management Plan and an End State Vision that includes both inactive waste sites and facilities to be decommissioned that are potential sources of environmental contamination. The cleanup schedule currently extends to 2030. This completion date is ahead of earlier projected completion dates.

Learn more about the ACP approach.

Deactivation & Decommissioning

A central focus of the ACP is facility deactivation and decommissioning. Due to changes in missions, many SRS facilities are no longer needed for the production or processing of nuclear materials. This situation poses a challenge for SRS to place and maintain these facilities in a safe, low-cost condition until they can be safely deactivated and decommissioned. Over 1,000 facilities at SRS need to be deactivated and decommissioned. Disposition is the process that begins once DOE decides a facility is no longer needed to support defense, research or other program missions and declares it as surplus property.

Learn more about DOE deactivation and decommissioning.

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Cleanup Progress

Overview

To date, DOE/SRS, in cooperation with EPA and SCDHEC, has closed more than 324 of the 515 waste sites identified at SRS. Billions of gallons of ground water have been treated, with over one million pounds of solvents removed. Starting in 2009, DOE/SRS accelerated cleanup work because of significant funding made available to DOE by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The additional funding is resulting in the accelerated cleanup of nuclear waste at SRS and a significant reduction in the site footprint. In 2009 alone, more than 1,500 new workers were hired and over 800 jobs retained due to ARRA funding.

By 2031, all inactive waste sites posing an unacceptable risk to human health, ecological receptors, surface water or ground water will be cleaned up, and any contaminated ground water will be cleaned up or undergoing cleanup. Where waste or hazardous substances are left in place, institutional controls such as access restrictions and inspection programs will be used to ensure public safety. Detailed information regarding specific areas and OUs is included below. Innovative cleanup approaches and notable reuse activities underway at SRS are also discussed.

Recent Area/OU Cleanup Progress Highlights

DOE/SRS, in cooperation with EPA and SCDHEC, has undertaken numerous cleanup activities across SRS. DOE/SRS closed the T-Area in 2006. T-Area activities included remediation and closure of surface waste units; ground water cleanup is ongoing. In 2010, DOE/SRS completed surface actions at M-Area (groundwater cleanup is ongoing); cleanup activities at two former gunsites (Gunsite 213 and Gunsite 012); and cleanup actions at the source area of the Chemical, Metals and Pesticide Pits site. DOE/SRS has also initiated cleanup actions at the P-Area and the R-Area; additional activities will be undertaken in D Area and the Early Construction Onsite Disposal Sites.

Additional cleanup information, maps and photos are available for the following SRS Areas/OUs.

T-Area OU (OU-96) D Area OU (OU-63) Chemical, Metals and Pesticides Pits (OU-24) Early Construction and Operational Disposal Sites B-3 C-Area OU L-Area Southern Groundwater OU
M-Area OU (OU-92) E Area Low-Level Waste Facility (OU-86) Former Gunsite 218 (OU-80) B-5 (B-Area) 105-C Disassembly Basin L-Area Northern Groundwater OU
P-Area OU (OU-94) High Level Waste Tanks: F-Area Tank Farm (OU-23) Former Gunsite 012 (OU-78) ECODS L-1, N-2, P-2, R-1A, -1B, and -1C C-Area Cask Car Railroad Tracks as Abandoned C-Area, K-Area and L-Area Reactor Complexes (OU-79, OU-90 and OU-91)
R-Area OU (OU-95) H-Area Tank Farm (OU-89) A-Area Ash Pile and Coal Pile Runoff Basin (OU-62) Heavy Water Components Test Reactor (B-Area) Small Arms Training Area  

Summaries of cleanup activities are also available in Five-Year Reviews online.

Innovative Cleanup Approaches

DOE/SRS, in collaboration with Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and in cooperation with EPA and SCDHEC, has pioneered the use of numerous groundbreaking technologies to increase the effectiveness of cleanup efforts and to reduce risk. In recent years, cleanup methods have evolved to include more efficient and cost-effective approaches, such as bioremediation, monitored natural attenuation, barometric pumping, barometric pressure valves for passive soil gas venting (i.e., baroballs), solar-powered microblowers, dynamic underground steam stripping and electrical resistance heating of the subsurface to treat volatile organic chemicals. In addition, immobilizing contamination with impermeable clay caps and/or grouting waste in place has been shown to be a cost-effective way to fix contamination in place while minimizing potential impacts on worker health and safety. DOE/SRS has also evaluated the carbon footprint of using a diesel generator to operate a soil vapor extraction system and compared that with the carbon footprint of a soil vapor extraction system that does not use a diesel generator. DOE/SRS has also reseeded damaged portions of some areas of the site with native vegetation.

Reuse

SRNL is using some of the M-Area property to test new equipment that might be used in the future by customs officials at ports to scan for loads containing radioactive materials. In addition, the U.S. Army (Army) is negotiating with DOE to use those portions of SRS where land has not been impacted by contaminants or the area has been cleaned up to allow such use. EPA is working with DOE and reviewing the "Use documents" to help ensure human health and protection of the environment, as well as any impacts to current operational clean up systems.

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Enforcement Activities

EPA has been working with its federal and state partners to ensure the site’s cleanup for a number of years. In 1995, DOE, EPA and SCDHEC signed a Federal Facilities Agreement to coordinate cleanup activities at SRS as part of one comprehensive strategy. Every year, EPA, DOE, and SCDHEC negotiate the enforceable milestone schedule of the FFA for the next two fiscal years. DOE submits a schedule in the first quarter of the fiscal year. EPA and SCDHEC comment on the schedule by the end of the first quarter and DOE responds within 30 days. If DOE fails to meet its FFA commitments, EPA and SCDHEC can levy stipulated penalties per the terms of the FFA. In addition, informal and formal disputes can be invoked through the terms of the FFA if DOE does not meet enforceable milestones. In Fiscal Year 2006/2007, the three parties went to formal dispute and resolved the dispute before it was elevated to the level of the Regional Administrator. 

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Community Involvement

EPA has worked with the community and its state and federal partners to develop a long-term remedy for DOE/SRS, reflecting the Agency’s commitment to safe, healthy communities and environmental protection. EPA cannot fulfill its mission without community engagement and public outreach as core components of the program’s activities.

EPA has conducted a range of community involvement activities at SRS to solicit community input and to ensure that the public remains informed about site activities throughout the site cleanup process. Outreach activities have included public notices and information meetings on cleanup progress and activities. The DOE-SRS Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) is a group of community members who are briefed monthly on site activities. The CAB meets bi-monthly. EPA serves as a liaison to the CAB and attends all six CAB meetings annually. In addition, EPA staff attend most CAB Committee meetings, which are held on a monthly basis. EPA staff work actively with CAB members on the Waste Management Committee, the Facilities Disposition and Site Remediation Committee, the Nuclear Materials Committee and the Strategic and Legacy Management Committee. Recently, DOE/SRS has begun webcasting CAB committee meetings.

In addition to these meetings, EPA staff participate in many meetings which are focused on the environmental justice communities located near SRS. EPA and DOE jointly fund a grant to Savannah State University to work with these communities and minority students and teachers in the area to enhance community understanding of the cleanup work at SRS and its local impacts. Learn more about how you can participate. EPA is currently working with DOE and community partners to hold more meetings in concerned environmental justice communities around the site in 2011-2012.

SRS Superfund Job Training Initiative (SRS SuperJTI)

The first Superfund job readiness program in the nation to be conducted at a Federal Facility, SRS SuperJTI provides local job-seekers with new skills and work experience through a partnership with DOE, community organizations and site contractors. SRS SuperJTI partners include EPA, DOE, SRS site contractors SRNS and Savannah River Remediation, Aiken Technical College, Denmark Technical College, The Imani Group and the Allendale Department of Social Services.

SRS SuperJTI partners conducted the first cycle of SRS SuperJTI in 2009. SRS SuperJTI continued to provide career development opportunities for residents living near the Savannah River Site in south-central South Carolina and eastern Georgia in 2010. The second cycle of the program took place between March and July 2010, building on the success of the program’s first cycle, which graduated 20 trainees in 2009. Forty-two trainees completed the second round of SRS SuperJTI. Following graduation in July 2010 trainees were placed into permanent positions with full benefits as radiological control inspectors and maintenance and production operators. (View graduation photos)

In Fiscal Year 2011, following two years of SRS SuperJTI assistance from EPA Headquarters under the Technical Assistance Services for Communities program, Region 4 is funding the third cycle of SRS SuperJTI training.  The training is projected to create approximately 40 jobs in the Augusta, Georgia area. Learn more about SuperJTI.

For more information, please contact Robert Pope (pope.robert@epa.gov).

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Future Work

As detailed above, cleanup work is ongoing at multiple OUs across SRS. Cleanup activities planned for fiscal year 2011 under the terms of the SRS Federal Facility Agreement include:

The next Five-Year Review is scheduled for January 2014.

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Additional Information

For more information, or to view any site-related documents, please visit the site information repository at the following location or access site information online. As new documents are generated, they will be placed in the information repository.

U.S. Department of Energy
Public Reading Room
Gregg-Graniteville Library
University of South Carolina - Aiken
171 University Parkway
Aiken, South Carolina 29801
803-641-3465

Thomas Cooper Library
Government Documents Department
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina  29208
803-777-4866

Online: http://www.srs.gov/general/programs/soil/arf/arfirf.html

For documents that are not available online, please contact the Region 4 Freedom of Information Office.

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