A plan to restart a defunct South Carolina nuclear facility with a new mission has safety advocates worried about tons of new nuclear waste in an area of the state with a checkered radioactivity record.
“The essential problem with the work at the Savannah River Site (SRS) is there have been a number of newfangled ideas to either downgrade or reuse plutonium or other nuclear byproducts,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, executive director of Savannah Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Often, that just means we bring in more waste that is indefinitely stored in South Carolina and often not used even for the purpose it was brought in for.”
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s new budget includes a request for $603 million toward the production of plutonium pits, a key component in nuclear warheads, at SRS. Nearly all pits currently in the U.S. stockpile were produced from 1978 to 1989 because the U.S. had only one active site for decades to produce new pits. The recent funding request marks a 37 percent increase from 2020, which moves the department closer to its goal of restoring pit production and producing 50 pits per year by 2030.