JACKSON, SC (WSPA)- The South Carolina Attorney General announced earlier this week the successful completion of the removal of a portion of the plutonium being stored at the Savannah River Site in Aiken.
The Savannah River Site has been in the state since the late 1950’s and was originally home to a nuclear bomb making facility, but over the years the site has taken on the role of several different operations, including the storage of plutonium.
Savannah River Site is now home to a nuclear laboratory and facility to reuse the nuclear material left behind from the Cold War. Over the years the storage of that plutonium has become a concern.
“A lot of pollution left over from that so the main mission of the Savannah River Site for a long time has been the cleaning up of the contamination that exists,” explained Tonya Bonitatibus, the Executive Director of Savannah Riverkeeper. Savannah Riverkeeper monitors the quality of the Savannah River, which is used for drinking water for more than 1 million residents.
The United States Department of Energy notified the state’s attorney general of the removal of one metric ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site.
In 2016, Congress passed a law to remove the plutonium if production goals to reuse the material were not met.
The plutonium removed so far is the first step in a wider cleanup after the state won a lawsuit against the DOE.
Bonitatibus continued, “The Savannah River Site has been the dumping ground for nuclear waste. It just has because nobody wants it. So it ends up being stored here leaking into the coastal plain and groundwater.”
The National Nuclear Security Administration says, “The material removed from the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, South Carolina, will be used for national security missions and is not waste.”
NNSA also released a removal plan that designated Texas and New Mexico as the destinations for the removed plutonium.
The ruling outlined that one metric ton of the plutonium would be removed each year. The process could take another 5 to 7 years to remove the plutonium being stored.
The removal was supposed to be completed by January 1, 2020. The process is 6 months ahead of schedule, according to NNSA.
Savannah River Site is located on land in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties.