AIKEN, S.C. – EM workers have placed the first drum inside a new facility at the Savannah River Site (SRS) to support the interim storage, characterization, and shipment of plutonium for permanent disposal.
Completion of the National Nuclear Security Admininstration-funded facility, known as the K Area Characterization and Storage Pad, is an accomplishment that will support the removal of plutonium from South Carolina.
Plutonium is downblended in the site’s K Area Complex glovebox in a process that mixes plutonium oxide with a multicomponent adulterant to enable DOE to meet requirements for shipping plutonium to EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico for disposal.
Next, the plutonium is packaged in Criticality Control Overpack (CCO) drums and stored on the pad until it is characterized and ready to be received at WIPP. The pad also contains equipment to load drums into larger shipping containers on a shipping transport vehicle.
“Initially the pad will add the capacity to store over 3,800 CCO drums while awaiting shipment,” said Geoff Hendrick, the K Area Storage and Characterization Pad project manager for SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. “The first shipment is planned for March 2022.”
In the past, all waste shipped to WIPP was characterized in the SRS Solid Waste Management Facility (SWMF), located several miles away from K Area. A large piece of characterization equipment was transferred from SWMF to the pad in December 2020 to prepare for the characterization process.
Additional characterization equipment has also been procured and installed on the pad. This equipment will be used by WIPP contractors to verify and validate that the waste within each container matches documentation provided by SRS and that it does not contain any items prohibited by WIPP before shipment out of South Carolina.
“By being able to store, characterize, and ship the material directly from the pad, we are eliminating the step of sending the material to SWMF to verify the material is safe to ship. With the pad in operation, that same verification can now be done in the area where the material is packaged and stored. This saves time and resources and allows for more efficient mission execution,” Hendrick said.
“Despite many unavoidable challenges throughout the project, such as weather delays and a global pandemic, the SRNS project team remained committed to completing the characterization and storage pad construction safely and within cost and schedule constraints. This focus was clearly demonstrated by the project manager. This new storage facility is an important step in progressing the nonproliferation mission of the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA),” said Bill Wabbersen, with NNSA’s Office of Materials Management & Minimization. “This impressive project is just one of the ways SRS helps make the world safer.”
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