Office of Environmental Management

Overcoming Challenges in the Journey to EM Success

September 28, 2017

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ALEXANDRIA, Va.EM officials and cleanup contractor representatives from across the complex shared strategies for moving past challenges in major cleanup projects during the “Path to EM Successes in 2017” session at this year's National Cleanup Workshop, held here earlier this month.

   Three EM site managers and their contractor counterparts discussed deactivation and decommissioning (D&D) and waste disposition projects at the Hanford, Los Alamos, and Portsmouth sites in a panel led by Stacy Charboneau, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations.

Stacy Charboneau, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations.
Stacy Charboneau, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations.

   Charboneau noted cleanup successes from her visits to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP), and the Idaho, Oak Ridge, and Savannah River (SRS) sites.

   “I’ve had several opportunities to travel to WIPP, which plays an integral role in our cleanup work across the entire program,” she said. “I’m proud of the work WIPP and our generator sites have done to allow TRU (transuranic) shipments to resume this year.”

   Charboneau also pointed to the retrieval of 65,000 cubic meters of TRU waste at Idaho’s Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, D&D at Oak Ridge’s East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), progress in tank waste cleanup at SRS, and WVDP workers achieving 2 million safe work hours preparing for demolition of the site’s vitrification facility, which began earlier this month.

   “These, and other successes we’ve realized over the last year, all further demonstrate our continued commitment and capability to tackle our mission, to address decades of nuclear weapons production and nuclear energy research,” Charboneau said. 

Hanford 618-10 Burial Ground and Plutonium Finishing Plant

   EM Richland Operations Office (RL) Manager Doug Shoop and Ty Blackford, president of contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company, recounted progress in remediating the 618-10 Burial Ground and demolishing the Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP). 

Ty Blackford, president of contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company, left, and EM Richland Operations Office Manager Doug Shoop.
Ty Blackford, president of contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company, left, and EM Richland Operations Office Manager Doug Shoop.

   Blackford described the difficulty of not knowing the types of waste in vertical pipe units that needed to be removed. RL collaborated with industry on extensive mockup testing to prepare for the work.

   “Every day is something new. Every day presents you with something you didn’t expect,” he recalled.

   Despite such challenges, crews succeeded.

   “This was the job everyone said couldn’t be done, it couldn’t be accomplished,” Blackford said. “And I’m glad to tell you it is done. They’re gone, they’re out.”

   Shoop and Blackford also talked about overcoming obstacles in D&D of the PFP, such as the facility’s outdated infrastructure.  

   “A lot of these challenges are just based on a very old facility. As Doug likes to say, and I agree with it, ‘It needs to go away,’” Blackford said of PFP. “We’re at the last stages of that right now. I’m very proud of our workforce. I’m very proud of the long history. It’s been 20 years to get here.”

Los Alamos Remediated Nitrate Salt Drums

   Doug Hintze, manager of the EM Los Alamos Field Office, and Randy Erickson, associate director for environmental programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, explained the changes that led to advancements in treating remediated nitrate salt drums. Workers have treated more than half of the 60 drums so far.

EM Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze.
EM Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze.

   Hintze said he’d be remiss if he didn’t acknowledge the hundreds of workers critical to improvements. 

   “These people wanted to make it right so they did step up and take that accountability,” he said.

   After a drum of remediated nitrate salts ruptured at WIPP in 2014, contributing to the facility’s suspension of operations until earlier this year, the Accident Investigation Board ordered full-scale drum testing. That testing provided insight to improve safety, such as the need to manage pressure inside the drums, according to Erickson.

   “We did implement some pressure relief devices as a result of those full-scale drum tests,” he said.

   Erickson attributed project progress to a “very strong and effective collaboration” between EM and the National Nuclear Security Administration and a “wealth of technical expertise” provided by EM headquarters.

   Hintze reflected on other lessons learned, including the importance of peer reviews, clear expectations for stakeholders, respect for all project partners, and the need to “go slow to speed up.” 

   That means work stops when an operator raises a hand after seeing something unexpected.

   “Schedule is not important,” Hintze said. “Remediating this risk, eliminating the hazard, is the number one thing.”

Portsmouth’s X-326 Process Building

   For Portsmouth, success means deactivating the X-326 Gaseous Diffusion Process Building, according to Robert Edwards, manager of EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office.

   Demolishing the estimated 2.5-million-square-foot facility, one of three process buildings on the site, will create the “first major skyline change at Portsmouth,” he said. 

EM Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Manager Robert Edwards.
EM Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office Manager Robert Edwards.

   “Getting there wasn’t that easy,” Roberts added, emphasizing the benefits of lessons learned from Oak Ridge’s ETTP D&D.

   Dennis Carr, site director for contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth, said transitioning the site from commercial nuclear power operations to D&D while adopting DOE’s Integrated Safety Management System and work planning proved challenging.

   “I think now there is a very vibrant and very effective safety culture at the facility,” Carr said. “We’ve gone all year without a recordable injury.”

   Early on, the project underestimated the need for nondestructive assay (NDA), which measures the quantities of uranium in pipes and equipment, Carr said.

   “Now we have met those needs,” Carr said, noting the site’s trained and qualified 250-person NDA organization that has taken more than 1.1 million of the required 1.3 million NDA measurements.

   Carr also discussed progress toward building the 5-million-cubic-yard Onsite Waste Disposal Facility.

   “We are at the field mobilized today, excavating soil at a pretty blistering rate,” he said. “Our objective is first waste placement by the end of calendar year 2020 before we have to shut down for the winter freeze. I’d love to beat that.”