EM made steady progress in its cleanup mission after most field sites moved into an essential mission-critical operating posture beginning in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Field sites across the DOE complex marked noteworthy accomplishments during this period of reduced operations, positioning the cleanup program for further success as the sites now work to restart activities and continue tackling an ambitious set of priorities, many of which remain on track to be completed this year.
"I attribute our success during the period of essential mission-critical activities to our dedicated federal and contractor employees who remain committed to our cleanup mission," EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Shrader said. "I'm impressed by their accomplishments as they safely responded to the pandemic, and their achievements will only continue as we move to resume full operations across the complex."
At the Hanford Site, small teams of essential personnel continued mission-critical activities, including:
- Spraying fixative over the Plutonium Finishing Plant demolition site to ensure that contaminated soil was not exposed.
- Cleaning and removing algae and sediment from drinking water treatment basins.
- Removing and controlled burning of tumbleweeds to reduce potential fuel sources on the site in the event of a weather-related or accidental wildfire.
Those mission-critical operations were required to ensure protection of the Hanford workforce, the public, and the environment.
Idaho National Laboratory Site
EM and cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho made progress on several mission-critical projects at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site involving the transfer of spent nuclear fuel, leak testing of a spent fuel storage facility, and waste shipments.
Crews completed the first of several spent nuclear fuel transfers from wet storage at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC) to dry storage at the Radioactive Scrap and Waste Facility at the Materials and Fuels Complex.
Workers also moved spent nuclear fuel from the Advanced Test Reactor canal to dry storage at INTEC’s Chemical Processing Plant-603 facility. These transfers allowed the restart of the reactor for its next experiments.
Crews also assisted EM INL Site contractor SpectraTech in conducting a five-year leak test of the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, which is a Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement. Leak checks were performed at all 29 storage vaults that contain fuel and debris from the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. The seals to each vault remain effective and no leaks were detected.
Shipping crews also completed 17 shipments of contact-handled transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and four shipments of low-level radioactive waste offsite in compliance with the 1995 Idaho Settlement Agreement.
Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos, EM’s cleanup contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory, established the Operational Excellence Initiative (OEI) to create a training program for employees unable to telework during the period of essential mission-critical activities.
OEI allowed about 180 employees — including radiological control technicians, craftsmen, waste operators, and nuclear facility operators — with the contact handled transuranic waste program at Technical Area 54’s Area G to pursue training and qualifications, helping them maintain the knowledge and skills necessary to support mission objectives.
Participants have completed more than 160 online training courses, required reading assignments, and live teleconference briefings delivered by subject-matter experts.
In response to COVID-19, project management implemented an array of safety and precautionary procedures to protect staff while steady operations continued at the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project toward the goal of removing a cumulative 11 million tons of contaminated soil and debris this year. Many workers at the Moab and Crescent Junction sites, such as heavy equipment operators and truck drivers, have traditionally worked independently, which made social distancing easier. Meetings and trainings are now structured differently, occurring over the phone, virtually, or with six feet of distance between employees. Wearing face coverings is encouraged while onsite, and stringent cleaning methods have been imposed.
During its mission-critical period, the EM Nevada Program earned regulatory approval to transition the Rainier Mesa groundwater management area to long-term monitoring, an achievement completed three years early, saving approximately $5 million in federal funding.
The Nevada Program also advanced the transfer of long-term stewardship responsibilities for certain sites on the Nevada Test and Training Range to the DOE Office of Legacy Management, a process involving the transmission of more than 7,200 records.
The Nevada Program hosted several web-based events during the period, including the 2020 Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Waste Generator WebShop, the NNSS Low Level Waste Stakeholders Forum, and a meeting of the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board.
Navarro Research and Engineering, the environmental program services contractor for the Nevada Program, also delivered more than 175 meals to eight local emergency response agencies and two area charities.
At the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM), employees used virtual meetings, online sharing of photographs and drawings, remote site visits, and other methods to help complete work.
An engineering team with OREM cleanup contractor UCOR used remote tools to prepare to replace 30-year-old pumps critical to the Liquid Low-Level Waste System at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
The new pumps add capability to transfer both legacy and newly generated waste, and they will also restore backup pumping capabilities since one of the two existing pumps has failed.
The pumps transport material a mile through underground pipes to 50,000-gallon storage tanks. Replacing these pumps is difficult and requires extensive planning because they are housed in below-grade shielded concrete vaults.
While working remotely, engineers prepared mechanical and electrical engineering instructions so a portion of a 25-year-old complex sludge mixing system could be safely disconnected and removed from the top of a three-foot-thick concrete vault. They also designed a new electrical distribution system.
Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office
The Portsmouth Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Project in southern Ohio finished a key step toward demolition of the first of three massive uranium enrichment process buildings at the site.
The X-326 High Assay Gaseous Diffusion Process Building was declared criticality incredible, which supports downgrade of the facility to a below Hazardous Category 3 nuclear facility, according to Tyfani Lanier, director of nuclear safety and engineering at Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth (FBP), the site's deactivation and decommissioning contractor.
Achieving the declaration involved the generation, review, and publication of more than 2,500 pages of detailed safety evaluations and data packages for the characterization of more than 400,000 pieces of process gas equipment.
“Downgrade approval was necessary to allow FBP to begin demolition of the X-326 process building and disposal of the associated debris in the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility,” Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO) Federal Project Director Jud Lilly said. “Demolition of the X-326 building, with its 29-acre footprint, will make the first significant skyline change at the Portsmouth D&D project.”
At the Paducah Site, PPPO worked with state and federal regulators on processing 13 mission-critical environmental documents, including the fiscal 2020 Site Management Plan (SMP), which was approved on May 21.
An annual deliverable that outlines Paducah’s environmental cleanup strategic approach, the SMP sets forth enforceable regulatory milestones for the current year plus two additional years. It also outlines upcoming work for the C-400 city block remediation. The C-400 Complex is the primary source of groundwater contamination at the Paducah Site and one of PPPO’s highest priorities.
PPPO Environmental Protection Specialist Dave Dollins said his office was able to meet all of its deadlines while working remotely.
“This was the first time I have had to telework for an extended period of time and I was very pleased how our information technology infrastructure was able to support collaborative work,” Dollins said.
DUF6 Conversion Project
PPPO’s Depleted Uranium Hexafluoride (DUF6) Conversion Project advanced its engineering design activities that will allow large plant modifications to move forward on a compressed schedule once construction can resume.
At its Portsmouth facility, the project completed its plan for depleted uranium storage cylinders that require special handling. Operations and maintenance contractor Mid-America Conversion Services (MCS) developed work packages, engineering evaluations, and the design of special tooling to allow for more efficient sampling and processing.
Savannah River Site
Savannah River Site (SRS) personnel accomplished significant work while in an essential mission-critical operating posture, including critical maintenance and surveillance activities necessary to ensure facilities continued to meet safety requirements and maintenance schedules.
While employees performed many activities via telework, key personnel continued to report to the site as needed, adhering to enhanced safety and social distancing protocols. Their accomplishments include:
- Finishing dissolving Material Test Reactor and High Flux Isotope Reactor spent nuclear fuel (SNF) in H Canyon for the fiscal year, helping make room for L Basin to receive more SNF shipments from foreign and domestic research reactors. Dissolving fuel bundles in nitric acid in H Canyon is the first step in dispositioning the material.
- Continuing SNF receipts from foreign and domestic customers in L Area on schedule. SRS safely stores SNF in L Basin until it is ready for processing in H Canyon.
- Double-stacking more than 60 canisters in the Defense Waste Processing Facility’s (DWPF) Glass Waste Storage Building 1. Modifying the existing storage positions in Glass Waste Storage Building 1 to store two canisters (each 10 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter) instead of one expands on-site interim storage from 4,602 storage positions to 6,864, postponing the cost of building another glass waste storage building to until at least 2029.
- Preparing approximately 86,000 gallons of salt waste for processing through the Tank Closure Cesium Removal demonstration project.
- Improving plutonium processing for more timely removal of plutonium from the state of South Carolina. Crews installed new material entry and removal devices for the glovebox used for processing; acquired new tools that allow for tight bag closure, minimizing waste generation; designed carts to move containers through the glovebox; and relocated equipment inside the glovebox to improve workflow.
- Constructing a storage, characterization, and shipping facility in K Area for expedited plutonium shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The new facility increases storage capacity of down-blended material and eliminates the need to transfer the material to the site’s Solid Waste Management Facility prior to shipment from SRS, supporting reduced handling and process efficiency.
Savannah River National Laboratory
Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) joined efforts by the DOE complex this spring to develop virus prevention, treatment, and modeling solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
SRNL has developed a prototype for an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) that can be coupled with breathing hoods and masks to remove viral and microbial contaminants from air with extremely high efficiency. This innovation is intended to reduce infection risk for healthcare professionals who work in high-risk spaces.
The ESP prototype is currently in testing, and efforts are being made to produce a more compact, scalable system. Testing is also under way to ensure the ESP system is consistent in deactivating the coronavirus after multiple uses, a critical quality step before it is released for potential manufacturing.
SRNL scientists and engineers are also assessing chemical and electromagnetic radiation solutions for N95 mask disinfection and decontamination. Further work and testing are required, and if successful, offer promising solutions to reduce the likelihood of exposure and contagion for medical care providers.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
As the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) operated in a reduced operating posture, the site continued to receive five shipments of transuranic waste per week from EM’s Idaho and Los Alamos sites, and workers completed one construction project while they ramped up another.
WIPP’s 3.3-mile bypass road opened in early May, carrying non-WIPP traffic away from the site, including a large construction zone where excavation has begun on the site’s fifth shaft, known as the utility shaft.
The shaft will reach 2,275 feet underground and provide increased air as part of the upcoming Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS). Crews recently poured concrete equipment pads and started excavating the first 62 feet of the shaft.
WIPP crews installed 1,189 bolts — a monthly record — in the roof and walls of the mine to help control movement of salt in the permanent waste repository.
West Valley Demonstration Project
While deactivation and decommissioning operations were put on hold, workers at the West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP) completed critical compliance inspections, environmental monitoring, and other activities.
Employees installed a new hoist in the Equipment Decontamination Room inside the Main Plant Process Building. This new hoist will be used for moving waste boxes and drums when the site returns to full operations and resumes deactivation work inside a former reprocessing cell in the building.
Workers installed protective covers on four 69,000-pound containers stored in a secure location onsite to protect them from water infiltration. The containers are filled with low-level waste.
Employees performed annual inspections of a dam onsite as part of environmental monitoring. They installed new trailers for use as breakrooms, locker rooms, offices, and meeting areas that support social distancing. They also put in plexiglass shielding.
”The protection of our workers, the public, and the environment has always been our core value,” EM WVDP Director Bryan Bower said. “During our pandemic response, the WVDP team maintained focus on safety and compliance, while continuing to advance our mission to eliminate legacy risks at the site.”
EM headquarters accomplished a number of regulatory and policy actions while in reduced operating posture, and its acquisitions team helped advance cleanup progress, including awarding the new Tank Closure Contract at the Hanford Site.
EM issued a record of decision for the disposal of depleted uranium oxide from the Portsmouth and Paducah sites. A draft waste incidental to reprocessing evaluation for vitrified low activity waste at Hanford was prepared for eventual Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste operations.
The cleanup program also reached a consent order with the state of California to allow active cleanup to resume at the Energy Technology Engineering Center with the demolition of 10 of the remaining buildings there — an important step that allows active work to restart after more than a decade.