The Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site.
The Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Savannah River Site (SRS) is on the verge of a new era of processing radioactive waste as workers prepare to start hot operations at a facility 18 years in the making, DOE-Savannah River Manager Mike Budney said at this year’s National Cleanup Workshop.

The upcoming startup of the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) was among the major cleanup successes EM federal and contractor officials from SRS, Oak Ridge, and Hanford highlighted during a panel session at the workshop. EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Nicole Nelson-Jean served as the panel moderator.

“With SWPF, we will be able to accomplish our mission of tank cleanup down here decades earlier than we would otherwise have been able to do so,” Budney said.

He discussed the work by the SRS team to bring SWPF online and integrate it with the site’s liquid waste mission.

“They did an incredible job of making sure all the rest of the system is ready to go as SWPF comes on, and it took a lot of effort to do that,” he said.

EM embarked on the SWPF project in 2002 to help accelerate radioactive waste processing. SWPF will have the potential to process as much as nine million gallons of waste per year, Budney said.

Frank Sheppard, senior vice president and SWPF project manager at Parsons, EM’s SWPF contractor, said SRS has an outstanding workforce that has made the complex first-of-a-kind nuclear facility a success.

“We are now poised for success here to accelerate the processing of the 35 million gallons of [radioactive] waste that’s in the carbon steel tanks,” he said. “Exciting times down at Savannah River.”

He added that lessons learned from the project are being prepared for use across the DOE complex.

EM’s cleanup at the East Tennessee Technology Park took a major step forward with removal of the Centrifuge Complex in late July.
EM’s cleanup at the East Tennessee Technology Park took a major step forward with removal of the Centrifuge Complex in late July.

Jay Mullis, manager of DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of EM, and Ken Rueter, president and CEO of Oak Ridge contractor UCOR, discussed the completion of core cleanup at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP). An event celebrating that accomplishment is scheduled Oct. 13.

Mullis credited partnerships with regulators, stakeholders, contractors, and others for helping get Oak Ridge to the Vision 2020 milestone.

“Partnerships is certainly a theme that we talk about quite a bit in Oak Ridge because we think that is one of the secrets to our success,” Mullis said.

EM’s partnership with cleanup contractor UCOR has proven effective. Together, they have completed core cleanup at ETTP four years ahead of schedule. That work was completed $80 million under budget, and it removes $500 million in environmental liabilities.

Oak Ridge took a first-of-a-kind approach to the ETTP cleanup. Workers not only tore down and cleaned a former uranium enrichment complex, but they also worked to transform the site into a multi-use industrial park for the community.

“This was a massive undertaking that was decades in the making,” Mullis said. “Getting here gives credibility to the EM program. Our work at this site has turned a liability for DOE into an asset for the community.”

Rueter said when UCOR arrived to take over ETTP’s cleanup in 2011, the company made a commitment to safety and partnerships to EM, the workforce, and the community. The company emphasized safety to ensure employees always return home from work the same way they arrive.

The result has been a historic success and marks the first time in the world an entire uranium enrichment complex has been removed. ETTP spanned more than 13 million square feet, and workers tore down dilapidated and contaminated facilities that could cover the equivalent of 225 football fields.

“I’ve asked [the workforce] about what do you think it will feel like to make history,” Rueter said. “For me, I set the bar for ourselves to say, 'Let’s go out and to make history, and let’s do that by delivering on our commitments.'”

The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at the Hanford Site.
The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at the Hanford Site.

The Hanford Site has undergone a remarkable period of transformation, and the workforce is very optimistic about the site’s next phase of the mission to treat tank waste and continue other risk reduction projects, said Brian Vance, manager of EM’s Richland Operations Office and Office of River Protection.

Vance discussed progress on the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) program to begin treating tank waste. Workers are nearing completion of construction of the Low-Activity Waste Facility this year, and they’re set to finish the Effluent Management Facility (EMF) early next year.

Valerie McCain, principal vice president and Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) project director with Bechtel National, Inc., EM’s WTP contractor, said that workers have finished piping in the EMF, and more than 50 percent of the facility’s systems are in startup.

McCain said that chemists are working in the WTP’s Analytical Laboratory.

“We’re getting ready to start that up and be ready for plant startup,” she said.

McCain added that the Hanford team is working in an integrated fashion to ensure success.

“I’ll sum it up with three words: partnership, progress, and pride. It really is what we’re feeling out here and we’re really looking forward to 2021,” McCain said. “It’s a critical year for us and we plan on heating up a melter.”

Vance discussed other Hanford progress. He said a new water treatment facility has replaced a facility built in the late 1940s, electrical distribution system upgrades are underway to enhance the reliability of the waste treatment plant power, and completion of construction of an integrated disposal facility is scheduled for this year.

He also noted the completion of demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

“What’s left is a rubble pile out there that we have to clean up to close out that project. We’ll do that early next year,” he said.