A Very Long Road for Military Nuclear Waste

Sarah Perez

Global Policy, Toxicity, and Waste Management


This article elaborates on the efforts of the United States Energy Department to dispose of toxic waste left over from Cold War era production of weapons. The initiative has been focused on Savannah River Site, a laboratory previously used to experiment with nuclear technology. In total, there are 51 tanks of toxic waste located at the site.  According to the article, molten glass was incorporated into the high-level waste in order to neutralize it. Similarly, cement was added to low-level waste. 22 of the 51 tanks at Savannah River Site do not meet the standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead of the double wall required by the EPA, these tanks of toxic waste have only a single wall. The Energy Department anticipates that all tanks will be “closed” by the year 2028. However, the Energy Department has faced much criticism because the “closed” tanks are not empty—the toxic waste is still stored inside. Environmentalists have argued that the chemicals inside could make their way into the nearby soil or the river below.  According to the article, the process needed to clean these tanks is extremely difficult. Thomas P. D’Augustino, undersecretary of energy, reported that the remaining tanks would be filled with grout. Likewise, he affirmed that the longest-lasting material, plutonium would not find its way into the soil. After this, the blocks of grout will be transported to a federal repository that is yet to be established. Savannah River Site was established for the sole purpose of producing plutonium, but officials are uncertain of how much plutonium remains after so many years.




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