Nuclear Health and Safety:

Policy Implications of Funding DOE's K Reactor Cooling Tower Project

RCED-89-212: Published: Sep 27, 1989. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the construction of a cooling tower for the K-reactor at the Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, focusing on the: (1) costs and benefits of the cooling tower compared to a potential alternative project that would protect similar wetlands with public access; and (2) policy implications of funding decisions for the project.

GAO found that: (1) the cooling tower would prevent further destruction of cypress and tupelo trees, protect areas for the endangered wood stork, reduce damage to fish, and maintain a more consistent flow into the Savannah River; (2) the tower would cost about $127 million for construction and about $1.2 million per year for operation, but would prevent damage to about 10 to 12 acres each year the reactor operated; (3) if DOE followed its current plans for reactor re-start in 1992 and retirement in 2000, 8 years usage would prevent damage to less than 100 acres, but another 630 acres of damaged streams and wetlands would begin natural recovery from the reactor's effects about 8 years sooner than they otherwise would; (4) alternative project costs would range from $40 million to $65 million and would preserve about 90,000 acres of the drainage basin of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers; and (5) Congress deferred funding decisions for the cooling tower because of doubts about the limited environmental benefits gained from such a large expenditure of federal funds, but potential compliance problems with the Clean Water Act, uncertainties about future supplies of tritium, and maintenance of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile would continue until DOE put a new production reactor into operation.

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