Nuclear Waste:

Impact of Savannah River Plant's Radioactive Waste Management Practices

RCED-86-143: Published: Jul 29, 1986. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed radioactive waste management practices at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River Plant (SRP) to determine if these practices had adverse environmental impacts.

GAO noted that SRP: (1) primarily produces plutonium, tritium, and other special nuclear materials for national defense; (2) generates radioactive airborne, liquid, and solid waste during its operations, some of which it disposes of by shallow land burial or by controlled releases into the atmosphere and surface streams; and (3) stores a large part of its radioactive waste in interim storage while awaiting completion of permanent offsite disposal facilities. GAO found that: (1) radioactive releases from SRP operations have very little impact outside the plant's boundaries; (2) within the plant, some of the surface streams contain elevated radioactivity levels and the soil and groundwater at several waste storage and disposal sites have high levels of radioactivity; (3) there is a remote possibility that some of this contamination could reach the deep Tuscaloosa aquifer, although the concentration of radioactivity would be very low by the time it discharged into the Savannah River; and (4) DOE may have to maintain long-term institutional control over the waste storage and disposal sites because of contamination. SRP has taken several actions to reduce radioactive releases into the environment, including: (1) transferring extremely hazardous high-level waste to safer storage tanks; (2) preparing for the permanent disposal of high-level and transuranic waste in offsite repositories; (3) changing certain low-level waste disposal practices; (4) evaluating new low-level disposal methods; and (5) modifying its tritium production facilities.

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