The HB Line facility at the Savannah River Site is located on top of the H Canyon chemical separations facility.
The HB Line facility at the Savannah River Site is located on top of the H Canyon chemical separations facility.

AIKEN, S.C.EM workers at the Savannah River Site (SRS) recently finished placing the HB Line, a facility once used to produce plutonium oxide, into a reversible safe shutdown while preserving its capabilities for future use, resulting in an annual cost avoidance of approximately $40 million.

“The principal scope involved three key tasks: de-inventorying and flushing facility product and cold chemical lines; dispositioning legacy plutonium and uranium materials stored and previously used within the facility; and laying up support systems no longer needed,” said Nick Miller, HB Line manager.

Additional work in the multi-year effort involved altering the security posture of the facility, including a reduction in the protective force personnel; implementing a revision to the facility’s technical safety requirements to reduce facility minimum staffing requirements; and assimilating the H Canyon — a chemical processing facility located underneath HB Line — and HB Line organizations.

“More so than any commitment delivery or cost reduction, I am most proud of the courage and resilience of this team to deliver against the uncertainty and adversity that comes along with a mission change such as this,” Miller said. “I have always maintained shutting down a plant is twice as hard as starting one up, mainly because you have to keep the plant running safely in the meantime. The team executed this work all in-house, safely, without having to bring on any additional resources.”

In 2018, DOE suspended plutonium oxide production at HB Line and directed SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) to place HB Line in reversible safe shutdown.

“The Department’s direction to preserve the capabilities of HB Line will allow us to ensure the facility is ready for use in the case that it is needed again,” SRNS Senior Vice President of Environmental Management Operations Wyatt Clark said. “The missions performed in HB Line over the years have a lasting impact on the site and the nation, and we are appreciative that some of the extensive experience of its employees can now be utilized in sister facilities across the site. Thank you to the employees who worked to ensure a smooth transition and safe layup.”

Built in the early 1980s, HB Line supported the production of plutonium-238, a power source for the nation’s deep space exploration program, and to recover legacy materials stored in H Canyon. HB Line has been used more recently to make plutonium oxide, a non-weapons usable form of plutonium.