AIKEN, S.C. – The Savannah River Site (SRS) is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Tank 17 closure — the second waste vessel closed at the site.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control certified Tank 17 as closed on Dec. 15, 1997.
Closure is the final chapter in the life of an SRS tank. Once workers remove the radioactive liquid waste from the tank, they fill it with a cement-like grout, providing long-term stabilization of the tank and ensuring the safety of the community and environment surrounding SRS.
The first waste tank closure in the nation — Tank 20 at SRS — came about six months before the Tank 17 closure.
Each tank held about 1.3 million gallons and began receiving waste from the nation’s defense efforts in 1961. Each SRS tank contains a different combination of insoluble solids, salts, and liquids, making each closure unique.
Tracy Scott worked as an operations first-line supervisor supporting facility operations during the Tank 17 closure.
“These waste tanks that were once used in support of a national defense mission have provided safe storage for the radioactive liquid waste generated at SRS,” Scott said. “To be part of tank closure is to be part of the bigger mission and team here at SRS, and I am honored to say I contribute to the safety of our community and environment.”
The Tank 17 closure set a baseline for the site’s subsequent tank closures. SRS developed water-based flushing systems to remove residual solids, often referred to as sludge waste, at the bottom of the tanks. Crews improved the grouting process by filling the tank through multiple risers, ensuring an even distribution of grout. They also installed cameras in the tank to monitor grouting progress.
Workers learned lessons that transcend present-day tank closures, including techniques for residual waste sampling and grout application. Grout is still poured using the same method in the Tank 17 closure.
Kim Hauer, the facility manager for F Tank Farm in December 1997, said dedication to safety and a strong team effort drive the tank closures.
“With each tank closure, we evaluate ways we can improve, whether it be with scheduling or ideas that innovate our processes,” Hauer said. “We applied what we had learned from closing Tank 20 earlier that year to closing Tank 17, and the adjustments resulted in marking 1997 a historic year."
SRS has closed six more tanks since Tank 17. The 43 remaining tanks at SRS contain approximately 35 million gallons of waste and are in various stages of the waste removal, cleaning, and closure process.
Jim Folk, DOE-Savannah River Assistant Manager for Waste Disposition, said SRS demonstrated to the world through the closures for tanks 20 and 17 how the site can achieve a safe future for generations to come.
“In addition, through the trust of the community, regulators, and local and federal government, we’ve executed eight waste tank closures in 20 years,” Folk said.
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