It is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The management and operating contract is held by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC (SRNS), and the Liquid Waste Operations contract is held by Savannah River Remediation, which is a team of companies led by URS Corp.
A major focus is cleanup activities related to work done in the past for American nuclear buildup. Currently none of the reactors on-site are operating (see list of nuclear reactors), although two of the reactor buildings are being used to consolidate and store nuclear materials. SRS is also home to the Savannah River National Laboratory and the USA's only operating radiochemical separations facility. Its Tritium facilities are also the United States' only source of tritium, an essential component in nuclear weapons. The USA's only mixed oxide fuel (MOX) manufacturing plant is being constructed at SRS overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration. When operational, the MOX facility will convert legacy weapons-grade plutonium into fuel suitable for commercial power reactors.
Future plans for the site cover a wide range of options, including host to research reactors, a reactor park for power generation, and other possible uses. DOE and its corporate partners are watched by a combination of local, regional and national regulatory agencies and citizen groups. Security is provided by Wackenhut Services, Inc.
1950-1951: The federal government asked E.I. DuPont to build and operate a nuclear facility near the Savannah River in South Carolina. The company had expertise in nuclear operations, having designed and built the plutonium production complex at the Hanford site for the Manhattan Project during World War II. A large portion of farmland, the towns of Ellenton and Dunbarton, and several other communities including Meyers Mill, Leigh, Robbins, and Hawthorne were bought under eminent domain, and the site of 310 square miles (800 km2) became the Savannah River Site, managed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Biologists from the University of Georgia began ecological studies of local plants and animals, and construction began.
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 Offsite Fuels (RBOF) 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.
1966: The Savannah River Site begun receiving contaminated soil from the clean up of the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash. Soil with radiation contamination levels above 1.2 MBq/m2 was placed in 250-litre (66 U.S. gallon) drums and shipped to the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina for burial. A total of 2.2 hectares (5.4 acres) was decontaminated by this technique, producing 6,000 barrels. 17 hectares (42 acres) of land with lower levels of contamination was mixed to a depth of 30 centimetres (12 in) by harrowing and plowing. On rocky slopes with contamination above 120 kBq/m2, the soil was removed with hand tools and shipped to the United States in barrels.
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 Co. (WSRC) 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. The cooling tower was 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 the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF). 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. 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. WSRC earned the DOE's top safety performance honor of Star Status.
2003: In January, Westinghouse Savannah River Co. completed transferring the last of F Canyon’s radioactive material to H Tank Farm. DWPF 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 RBOF was shipped across the site to L Reactor in preparation for RBOF's deactivation.
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 Spencer Abraham designated the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), one of 12 DOE national laboratories. Two prototype bomb disposal robots developed by SRNL were deployed for military use in Iraq.
2005: The Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) was completed for the purpose of extracting 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 Laboratory in Idaho. This was the last of the USA'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 began 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 Corp. Work continued on design of the MOX fuel fabrication facility by a company now known as Shaw AREVA MOX Services.
2007: On August 1, 2007, construction officially began on the $4.86 billion MOX 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.
2013: With costs at $7.7 billion the United States was reported to be considering abandonment of the MOX facility.
Savannah River is home to the following nuclear reactors:
Management of the Savannah River Site was to be bid in 2006, but the Department of Energy extended the contract with the existing partners for 18 months to June 2008.
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 - now a Fluor partnership with Honeywell, and Huntington Ingalls Industries (formerly part of Northrop Grumman) - submitted a proposal in June 2007 for the new M&O Contract. A team led by URS and including many of the WSRC partners also submitted a proposal. On January 9, 2008 it was announced that SRNS LLC had won the new contract, with a 90-day transition period to start January 24, 2008. However, the transition was delayed by a protest filed with GAO by the URS team 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.
Frederickson, Kari. Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South (University of Georgia Press; 2013) 256 pages; the economic, social, environmental, and political impact of the Plant