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The Savannah River Site (SRS) is a nuclear materials processing center in the United Statesmarker in the state of South Carolinamarker, located on land in Aikenmarker Allendalemarker and Barnwellmarker Counties adjacent to the Savannah River, 25 miles southeast of Augusta, Georgiamarker. The site was built during the 1950s to refine nuclear materials for deployment in nuclear weapons.

It is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC and was previously run by Washington Savannah River Company (WSRC), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington Group International. There are several other former partner companies on the Savannah River Site including Bechtel Savannah River, Inc. (BSRI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Bechtel, BNG America now Energy Solutions (formerly part of BNFL), BWXT Savannah River Company, a BWXT company, and CH2 Savannah River Company, a CH2M Hill subsidiary.

Currently none of the reactors on-site are operating (see list of nuclear reactors). The site is engaged mainly in clean-up activities related to work done in the past making nuclear weapons. Future plans for the site cover a wide range of options, including host to research reactors, a reactor park for power generation and tritium manufacture, a "Modern Pit Facility" to build triggers for the next generation of US nuclear weapons, including tactical field weapons ("mini-nukes"). DOE and its corporate partners are watched by a loose combination of local, regional and national regulatory agencies and citizen's groups. The base is secured by Wackenhut guards, who have the authority to make arrests for criminal security violations.


  • 1952-1954: Production of heavy water for the site reactors began and reactors R, P, L and K went critical. The first irradiated fuel was discharged. F-Canyon, the world's first operational full-scale PUREX separation plant, began radioactive operations on November 4, 1954. PUREX (Plutonium and Uranium EXtraction) extracted plutonium and uranium products from materials irradiated in the reactors.

  • 1955-1956: C-Reactor went critical. The first plutonium shipment left the site. H-Canyon, a chemical separation facility, began radioactive operations. Construction of the basic plant was completed.

  • 1963-1971: The receiving basin for off-site fuels received the first shipment of off-site spent nuclear fuel. L-reactor was shut down for upgrades. R-reactor was shut down. K-reactor became the first reactor to be controlled by computer.

  • 1972: The site was designated as a National Environmental Research Park.
L-Reactor Facility: L Area, Savannah River Site, September 16, 1982
1981-1983: An environmental cleanup program began. M-Area settling basin cleanup began under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The heavy water rework facility was closed. Construction of the defense waste processing facility began.

  • 1985-1987: HB-Line began producing plutonium-238 for NASA's deep-space exploration program. L-reactor restarted and C-reactor shut down. A groundwater remediation system is constructed in M-Area. Construction of Saltstone and of the Replacement Tritium Facility began. DuPont notified DOE that it would not continue to operate and manage the site.

  • 1988-1989: K, L, and P-Reactors were shut down. An effluent treatment facility began treating low-level radioactive wastewater from F and H-Area separations facilities. The site was included on the National Priority List and became regulated by the EPA. Westinghouse Savannah River Company assumed management and operation of site facilities.

  • 1990-1993: Construction of a cooling tower for K-reactor began. Saltstone began operation. The mixed waste management facility was the first site facility to be closed and certified under the provisions of RCRA. L-reactor and M-Area settling basin were shut down. With the end of the Cold War, production of nuclear materials for weapons use ceased. Cooling tower connected to the K-reactor and the reactor operated briefly for the last time. The Secretary of Energy announced the phase-out of all uranium processing. Non-radioactive operations began at the replacement tritium facility and at the defense waste processing facility. K-reactor was placed in cold-standby condition. Construction began on the consolidated incineration facility. The Workforce Transition and Community Assistance began.

  • 1994-1997: The Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board was established. The Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) introduced radioactive material into the vitrification process. K-reactor was shut down. F-Canyon restarted and began stabilizing nuclear materials. The first high-level radioactive waste tanks were closed.

  • 1998-2000: Savannah River Site was selected as the site of three new plutonium facilities for: a MOX fuel fabrication; pit disassembly and conversion; and plutonium immobilization. The K-reactor building was converted to a storage facility. The WSRC earned the DOE's top safety performance honor of Star Status.

  • 2002:
    • The F-Canyon and FB Line facilities completed their last production run. The Savannah River Technology Center participated in a study of using a nuclear power reactor to produce hydrogen from water.
    • Scientists report finding a new species of radiation-resistant extremophiles inside one of the tanks. It was named kineococcus radiotolerans.

  • 2003: In January, Westinghouse Savannah River Company completed transferring the last of F-Canyon’s radioactive material to H Tank Farm. The defense waste processing facility began radioactive operations with its second melter, installed during a shutdown. The last depleted uranium metal was shipped from M-Area for disposition at Envirocare of Utah. The last unit of spent nuclear fuel from the Receiving Basin for Offsite Fuels (RBOF) was shipped across the site to its new location in preparation for RBOF's closure.

  • 2004: The site shipped its 10,000th drum of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a DOE facility in New Mexico, 12 years ahead of schedule. In a visit, Secretary of Energy Abraham designated it the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), one of twelve DOE national laboratories. Two prototype bomb disposal robots developed by the Savannah River National Laboratory were deployed for military use in Iraq.

  • 2005: The Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) was completed and will be used to extract tritium from materials irradiated in the Tennessee Valley Authority's commercial nuclear reactors. Savannah River Site's first shipment of neptunium oxide arrived at the Argonne West Laboratorymarker in Idaho. This was the last of the nation's neptunium inventory, and the last of the materials to be stabilized to satisfy commitments for stabilizing nuclear materials. F-Canyon was the first major nuclear facility at the site to be suspended and deactivated. Low-enriched uranium (LEU) from the site was used by a Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power reactor to generate electricity. The tritium facilities modernization and consolidation project completed start-up and replaced the gas purification and processing that took place in 232-H. WSRC begins multi-stage layoffs of permanent employees.

  • 2006: Design work took place and is ongoing, for the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF), a facility designed to process radioactive liquid waste stored in underground storage tanks at the site. The SWPF project work is performed by a group anchored by Parsons Corporation. Work continues on Design of the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX fuel) Project by a consortium known as DCS (Duke Power, COGEMA, and Stone & Webster), but currently, funding has become a major issue since the project is tied to a Russian counterpart project.

  • 2007: On August 1, 2007, construction officially began on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. "The current deadline for the completion of construction is 2014. Following startup testing, the facility would begin operations in 2016 with a disposition rate of up to 3.5 tons of plutonium oxide each year. The mission is supposed to end in 2035, although it could be extended to 2038."

  • 2009: U.S. Energy Department Inspector General's probe reveals that contractors repeatedly used substandard materials in the Savannah River Site facility, including substandard steel reinforcing bars, piping, steel plates, and other materials that did not meet federal safety standards. The inspector general concluded that the violations were serious, and "could have resulted in a spill of up to 15,000 gallons of high-level radioactive waste."


Reactor name Start-up date Shutdown date
R-reactor December 1953 June 1964
P-reactor February 1954 August 1988
K-reactor October 1954 Standby July 1992
L-reactor July 1954 June 1988
C-reactor March 1955 June 1985

Contract changes

Management of the Savannah River Site was to be bid in 2006 (similar to the Los Alamos National Laboratorymarker contract bid in 2005), however the Department of Energy extended the contract with the existing partners, WSRC and BSRI for eighteen months to June 2008. Allegedly, difficult relations between site management and DOE have led to a thorough examination of the path forward.

In 2006 DOE decided to split the WSRC Contract into two new separate contracts, i.e. the M&O Contract and the Liquid Waste Contract to be awarded before June 2008. Responding to the DOE RFP, the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), LLC, a Fluor Daniel partnership with Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin submitted a proposal in June 2007 for the new M&O Contract. The WSRC also submitted a proposal to compete for the M&O Contract. On January 9, 2008 it was announced that SRNS LLC had won the new M&O contract, with a 90 day transition period to start January 24, 2008. However, the transition was delayed by a protest filed with GAO by WSRC on January 22, 2008. The GAO denied the protest on April 25. DOE-SR then directed SRNS to start transition on May 2 and take over operation on August 1, 2008.

Popular culture

In Pat Conroy's book The Prince of Tides, the fictional town of Colleton was purchased, dismantled, and relocated by the federal government in order to create a nuclear site. That series of events is based loosely on the accounts of the towns of Ellenton and Dunbarton, which occurred in real life.

A reference to the Savannah River Site was made in the film adaptation of Tom Clancy's novel, The Sum of All Fears. In the film, protagonist Jack Ryan, played by Ben Affleck, discovers that the nuclear device that destroyed the city of Baltimoremarker was derived from an Israeli bomb with plutonium stolen in 1967 from the Savannah River Site.

Environmental contamination and worker safety issues at the plant were the subject of Building Bombs, a 1991 documentary film by Mark Mori and Susan Robinson.

See also


  1. Augusta Chronicle
  3. [1]

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