Department of Energy Acting To Control Hazardous Wastes at Its Savannah River Nuclear Facilities

RCED-85-23: Published: Nov 21, 1984. Publicly Released: Dec 4, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated efforts to control and clean up ground water contamination from hazardous wastes at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River plant.

The Savannah River plant produces nuclear materials for the nation's defense program and, since 1952, the on-site contractor has disposed of large amounts of radioactive and nonradioactive wastes within the plant's boundaries. In 1981, the contractor discovered that the ground water underlying the seepage basin serving the plant's fuel fabrication facilities, known as the M-area, is contaminated with suspected carcinogens. GAO found that, while wastes discarded in the M-area have contaminated ground water in the immediate vicinity, to date they have had no impact outside the plant's boundaries. However, tests have shown concentrations of suspected carcinogens which exceed existing DOE drinking water, not ground water, quality standards in M-area ground water above an aquifer which provides drinking water to much of the Southeast. Since discovery of the M-area contamination, DOE and the contractor have taken steps to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the seepage basin and have initiated a 20-year plan to remove the solvents already in the underlying ground water. The contractor has also initiated efforts to identify all waste disposal sites at the plant; however, for many of the sites, accurate records on the types and quantities of wastes disposed of have not been required or maintained. DOE has entered into formal agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of South Carolina to increase coordination on nonradioactive waste disposal matters at the plant.

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