Office of Environmental Management

Savannah River Site Takes on Another Environmental Cleanup Challenge: Coal-Fired Ash

July 29, 2015

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SRNS environmental engineers Ron Socha (left) and Frank Sappington inspect earth-moving work within a basin containing coal ash.

SRNS environmental engineers Ron Socha (left) and Frank Sappington inspect earth-moving work within a basin containing coal ash.

One of the coal-ash basins is shown before recent remediation efforts.

One of the coal-ash basins is shown before recent remediation efforts.

An artist's rendition displays the basin’s expected end state after completing the first phase of the multi-year project.

An artist's rendition displays the basin’s expected end state after completing the first phase of the multi-year project.

AIKEN, S.C. – Workers have begun excavating a thick layer of coal ash covering approximately 100 acres of the Savannah River Site (SRS). 

   Approximately 1.3 million cubic yards of coal ash is located in four pond-like basins nearly side by side. The workers, with EM’s management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), are consolidating it into two large mounds safely and efficiently. Each mound will be capped with a thick earthen cover consisting of fill dirt, a synthetic material, and clay to prevent rainwater from reaching the ash beneath.

   This Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act project is a result of a closure plan developed and approved by a team from DOE-Savannah River, and state and federal environmental regulatory agencies. The plan uses successful technology and methods to close contaminated, water-filled basins at SRS. 

   Cleanup of the basins, created in the 1950s, mitigates a potential risk to Savannah River.

   “Protecting and preserving the environment at SRS is always of critical importance to this management team,” said Angelia Adams, with DOE-Savannah River Office.

   Initial work will involve moving more than 80,000 cubic yards of excavated ash and dirt from one basin to an adjacent ash landfill. 

   “To date, the management of this project has been right on schedule with the site prep work successfully achieved and the relocation of ash in progress,” SRNS Environmental Compliance and Area Completion Director Chris Bergren said. “We expect the high level of productivity and dedication to safety to continue all the way through the completion of this project, about three years from now.”

   The protective cap for the first mound is expected to require nearly 87,000 cubic yards of new, clean soil. In all, enough ash, clay and dirt will be moved to fill about 17,000 average-sized dump trucks. When complete, the top of this mound will be as long as 17 football fields, end to end.

   After completing the first mound, SRNS will consolidate ash from the remaining basins, forming a second large mound with a protective cap.

   Construction of the ash basins was required to collect and control the watery, ash-laden solutions produced as a by-product at the coal-powered D-Area powerhouse located a short distance from the basins. Special sluice lines, or pipes, carried the environmentally hazardous fluid to the basins.

   For decades, a large percentage of the steam and power needed to operate SRS facilities was produced by that powerhouse, which is now closed for eventual demolition.