EM recently collaborated with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) to successfully complete the first shipment of downblended surplus plutonium for permanent disposal from a new location at the site: K Area.
The shipment from K Area to EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico marked a momentous milestone culminating from multiple years of effort to prepare for and remove plutonium from the state of South Carolina.
The downblended surplus plutonium meets requirements for shipping and disposal as contact-handled transuranic waste at WIPP.
In the past, all transuranic waste shipped to WIPP was characterized, stored and shipped from the SRS Solid Waste Management Facility (SWMF), located several miles away from K Area.
“Shipping directly from K Area, instead of through SWMF, saves time and resources and allows for more efficient removal of plutonium from the state,” said Lee Sims, K Area Facility manager for the site’s managing and operating contractor, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). “It also helps further the NNSA nonproliferation mission.”
Savannah River Operations Office Manager Mike Budney said the K Area shipment is the result of a joint mission between EM and NNSA.
“It has involved integration of activities at K Area between NNSA and DOE-Savannah River to demonstrate readiness to initiate shipments, along with significant coordinated efforts with the Carlsbad Field Office to achieve certification and approval of the waste stream for the WIPP facility,” Budney said. “All of this was completed safely and within cost and schedule restraints.”
Plutonium is diluted, or downblended, in the site’s K Area Complex glovebox in a process that mixes plutonium oxide with a multicomponent adulterant to enable DOE to produce a proliferation-resistant form that can never again be readily used in nuclear weapons. The downblended material is packaged in drums and staged on a designated storage pad until it is characterized and ready to be shipped to WIPP.
While SRS is celebrating the milestone, SRNS President and CEO Stuart MacVean noted that a lot more work lies ahead.
“Work is ongoing in K Area to increase the rate of downblending and shipping, including the construction of three new glovebox lines, which are used to perform the downblending process, and new entry control facilities and housing for an influx of new employees that will be needed to meet the mission needs,” MacVean said.
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