Rueter: Savannah River Remediation working to reach summit on nuclear waste cleanup

July 3, 2014 

Ken Reuter

— Since July 1, 2009, Savannah River Remediation has been working to turn the Savannah River Site into one of the premier nuclear cleanup sites of any country.

Our work for the federal government involves taking liquid radioactive waste, treating it, stabilizing it, disposing of it and operationally closing waste tanks that once held the waste. What I have described in one sentence is a complex, hazardous task that takes many years to perform.

This waste is borne of the Cold War. It is the remnant of America’s struggle and triumph, and it is a vestige that must be safely and efficiently handled to close the nuclear cycle.

The Savannah River Site is the only site in the nation that is processing both a radioactive sludge that is destined for a federal repository and a decontaminated salt-like waste that is held on site after treatment. Both types of waste are immobilized. The sludge becomes a glass; the salt is transformed into a concrete.

That’s impressive technology by itself. But there’s more.

Once we safely dispose of the waste, we work on closing waste tanks, ultimately filling them with a cement-like grout, stabilizing them for centuries. Six of the 51 waste tanks have been closed, and two more are on the schedule to close soon. These million-gallon waste tanks are so large you could put your high school basketball court inside one.

What’s the big deal about our work? The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control calls the waste “the single largest environmental risk in South Carolina.” In other words, you want us to safely dispose of the waste and close the waste tanks as soon as we can.

I enjoy mountaineering. Reaching a summit is an incredible experience. What you see is breathtaking; the thrill escapes words.

I like to compare our work to scaling a mountain: You start and end with safety, you do the right things along the way, and you continue to conduct your work with excellence and agility.

We are making outstanding progress, but about 37 million gallons of waste still needs to be dispositioned. It is a long, arduous process. But our employees prove every day they are up to the task.

Our work is all about the safety of the workers, the public, the environment and the Savannah River. And it puts a final exclamation point on Cold War, where the legacy waste began.

This is one climb that’s really worth the view.

Ken Rueter

President and Project Manager

Savannah River Recovery

Aiken

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