PHOENIX – EM is preparing for a potential game change and the challenges it could bring when major liquid waste treatment facilities begin to come online this year, officials said last week during the Waste Management Symposia 2020.
The Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) is anticipated to start up this spring, followed by the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the Idaho Site near the end of the year. Construction is expected to be completed this year at the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste treatment complex at the Hanford Site, putting that project a major step closer to startup.
“This is an inflection point for EM,” said Todd Shrader, EM principal deputy assistant secretary. “We are really excited that after many years of preparing to treat tank waste, we have two of our three facilities coming online this year.”
Shrader called liquid waste treatment “the last big piece of the EM mission.”
“There is a stat we heard that once we get these facilities up and running, when they come online, we will treat as much tank waste in two years as we had in the previous 30,” Shrader said.
The liquid waste treatment startups were a focus during the featured “Hot Topics” panel at the Waste Management Symposia. Shrader was joined by Betsy Connell, associate principal deputy assistant secretary for regulatory and policy affairs; Dae Chung, associate principal deputy assistant secretary for corporate services; and Mike Budney, manager of SRS.
EM is known for decommissioning facilities and “tearing buildings down,” Shrader said. Managing operating facilities brings new tests, he said.
“We have not been an operations organization,” he said. “What does that mean in budget space? What does that mean for human resources? Where are we going to get the workers we need to operate these facilities for anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30 years in some cases? We are grappling with that and getting our heads around that. Overall it’s a very exciting time.”
Budney said SRS quickly will accelerate from processing a million gallons of liquid waste annually through SWPF precursor test facilities.
“SWPF itself will be between six and nine (million gallons) and with TCCR (the demonstration Tank Closure Cesium Removal project) we can get up to 10 million gallons a year,” he said. “So you go from a hundred-year mission to a 10-to-12 year mission hopefully.”
The ramp-up will require integration with other features of the SRS liquid waste system that are operated by the site’s three major contractors.
“SWPF has this great capability,” Budney said. “That means we have to get our entire liquid waste system operating at that same pace. We have to go to 24/7 operations at Saltstone (disposal units). We go to 24/7 operations at the Defense Waste Processing plant, DWPF. All those systems have to be operated in unison.”
Chung said EM has been active in attempting to preserve the knowledge that is being gained from its accomplishments in liquid waste treatment.
“One of the most effective ways of not only recognizing but also sharing lessons learned is to have key representatives and subject-matter experts from a project participate in various forms of reviews that we conduct, which include project peer reviews, technical independent reviews as well as operational readiness reviews,” he said.
Chung said EM also encourages project directors and other key personnel to accept work details or transfer assignments to share their knowledge.
Connell said she was hopeful expansion of EM’s liquid waste treatment capabilities “will open up new opportunities as we take our cleanup to the next level.”
“I think the startup of the three facilities will demonstrate we are able to make tangible and sustained progress for addressing our largest environmental risk, tank waste,” she said.
“We hope we can work with the regulators and the stakeholders to look at how we are going to get cleanup done effectively and efficiently in a way that is protective of human health and the environment,” she said.