PHOENIX – Federal and contractor leadership highlighted progress in EM’s liquid waste treatment mission and lessons learned in their work during back-to-back panels at the 2023 Waste Management Symposia.
While the three radioactive liquid waste treatment plants at the Savannah River, Idaho National Laboratory and Hanford sites are at different stages of their missions, the panelists spoke of challenges and the importance of success to their missions.
DOE-Savannah River (SR) Manager Michael Budney said the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at Savannah River Site (SRS) continues to make headway on the site’s goal of treating 34 million gallons of waste generated by nuclear materials production during the Cold War.
“There are constant challenges,” he said, citing examples such as bringing on one system at a time in the run-up to radiological operations, and shifting from construction to operations.
Nonetheless, the No. 1 goal is to meet commitments made to South Carolina and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Budney said.
“Liquid waste comes first,” he said. “The liquid waste really drives the mission at the site.”
SRS needs SWPF and the site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) to operate more than 70% of the time to meet mission goals, Budney said. SRS is looking at making improvements to both facilities.
In the later session, James Folk, DOE-SR assistant manager for waste disposition, said he’s pleased with the progress.
“There have been thousands of folks who have helped us get to this point,” he said, noting that they have processed 4,300 of 8,200 canisters of waste at DWPF to date.
Dave Olson, program manager and president of Savannah River Mission Completion, the SRS liquid waste contractor, said the company is looking at reducing the cost and duration of treatment for tank closure.
He said the company is looking at consolidating organizations for project efficiency and hiring new staff to replace those retiring, among other things.
EM Idaho National Laboratory Site Manager Connie Flohr, Acting EM Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center Supervisor Ty Sanders, and Idaho Environmental Coalition Senior Director of Liquid Waste and Fuels Bill Kirby spoke of the state of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) at the panels.
IWTU will convert about 900,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste — generated from historic spent nuclear fuel reprocessing runs — into a granular solid. Following the completion of waste treatment, the underground waste tanks at the site will be closed.
Flohr said IWTU is nearing radiological operations, but “we continue to snag into challenges,” noting an investigation is underway on a new discovery of simulant on the floor of one of the processing cells.
She said IWTU’s success is crucial to furthering the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) mission at INL. The NE contractor cannot import research quantities of spent nuclear fuel until IWTU has filled 100 stainless steel canisters of treated sodium-bearing waste in an agreement with the state of Idaho.
In the later session, Sanders said a previous contractor’s four-phased approach to beginning radiological operations has been crucial to being on the cusp of startup.
Kirby said IWTU teams have been able to make repairs during “warm standby,” which has saved considerable time.
Representing the Hanford Site in the two panels were Brian Vance, manager of EM’s Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office, and Tom Fletcher, assistant manager for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP). David Bowen with the Washington State Department of Ecology also served on the panels.
The trio discussed WTP and the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) Program, which is an assembly of several highly interdependent projects and infrastructure that will operate together to vitrify, or immobilize in glass, and safely dispose of millions of gallons of low-activity tank waste.
While permitting can be a challenge for the complex DFLAW facilities, Fletcher said 66 permitting requirements have been completed, with just nine or 10 remaining.
“We’re proud to say our permitting (process) didn't delay construction,” Bowen said.
He said he’s been pleased with the communications, cooperation and coordination between Hanford and the state of Washington.
“I can’t overemphasize how important relationships are,” Bowen said. He noted that the state is committed to have DFLAW up and running. Having solutions-based conversations is key to making progress, he added.
Like the INL Site and SRS, Hanford is losing skilled employees to retirement. New employees need training and to be educated by those who are leaving, said Bowen.
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