AIKEN, S.C. – Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured EM’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) last week to learn more about research underway in environmental stewardship, nuclear security, energy, and advanced manufacturing.
Secretary Perry toured the materials science laboratories at SRNL’s Applied Research Center (ARC) and the unique facilities at the lab’s main campus. Among the highlights of the visit were a stop at the world’s first radiological crime lab, a demonstration of a nanomaterial developed at SRNL that is being commercialized, a briefing on how SRNL secures and disposes of weaponizable nuclear materials globally, and a discussion about advanced manufacturing.
The lab tour was part of Secretary Perry’s first visit to the Savannah River Site. During the Feb. 1 and 2 visit, he also broke ground for construction of the Saltstone Disposal Unit 7 and conducted an all-hands meeting with about 150 employees at the site. Read about those events in this EM Update newsletter issue.
Joining Secretary Perry for the lab tour were U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Reps. Joe Wilson (S.C.) and Rick Allen (Ga.). In addition to overviews and demonstrations, the group had the opportunity to talk with staff scientists and researchers about their work.
“It was very exciting to have the opportunity to speak with Secretary Perry and to share some of the laboratory’s research programs,” SRNL Senior Engineer Kallie Metzger said. “He spoke passionately about his visits to the national laboratories and was engaged during our lunch discussion about the advancement of commercial technologies in support of DOE missions. It is evident that he understands the importance of the national laboratories and is very supportive of our efforts.”
At ARC, the group learned more about SRNL’s hydrogen research, including tritium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is essential to the U.S. nuclear deterrent. SRNL’s research in this area has led to commercial partnerships for solar energy systems and the creation of a domestic supply of medical isotopes.
The visit to ARC also included a demonstration of glovebox gloves made of graphene nanomaterials being commercialized with a private company. Secretary Perry learned that the graphene prevents hydrogen from penetrating the glove and gives users more dexterity.
At SRNL’s main campus, the group toured the FBI’s Radiological Evidence Examination Facility, the only dedicated forensic examination facility in the U.S. for handling radiological and radiologically contaminated evidence.
The group stopped at SRNL’s Shielded Cells Facility, a specialized work area providing shielding for the safe analysis of highly radioactive materials, and received an overview of the lab’s work to secure and dispose of weaponizable nuclear material around the world. They learned about SRNL’s unique nuclear materials management capabilities that allow the recovery of rare and valuable isotopes for space, medical, and scientific applications.
Lab staff also provided Secretary Perry with a briefing on its innovations in vitrification, the process used to turn highly radioactive liquid waste into a stable glass form for long-term disposal. Through strategic advances in glass science and new manufacturing technologies, SRNL has been able to save DOE $1.5 billion in cleanup costs and reduce the liquid waste mission by five years.
The tour concluded with a working lunch to discuss the lab’s effort to accelerate the use of advanced manufacturing technologies and methods to transform a range of DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration missions. A focus of discussion was SRNL’s Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, a collaboration among national laboratories, industry, and education to innovate and accelerate new technology adoption in process intensification, additive manufacturing, virtual reality, and other areas.