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Characterization equipment operators Tim Carlton, left, and Todd Shepley perform a virtual equipment test.
Characterization equipment operators Tim Carlton, left, and Todd Shepley perform a virtual equipment test.

AIKEN, S.C. – In a first for the Solid Waste Management Facility (SWMF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS), employees completed equipment tests virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tests were designed to ensure proper installation and operation of two pieces of equipment used to characterize transuranic (TRU) waste at the facility. TRU waste consists of solid materials, such as clothing, tools, rags, residue, debris, and other items contaminated with trace amounts of plutonium. All TRU waste at SRS is characterized before it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal. This ensures the waste is allowed by WIPP.

“Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions in place at the time, acceptance tests were performed using video calls for the first time ever,” Solid Waste Programs Manager Kerri Crawford said. “An initial test was performed to ensure the video call could accurately meet requirements with both onsite and offsite personnel, and SRS subject-matter experts. The initial test was successful, and we completed the required acceptance testing while the travel restrictions were still in place.”

Following the successful testing, the equipment was calibrated. It will be certified for use in TRU waste characterization.

After TRU waste characterization efforts at SWMF are complete, the equipment will be used elsewhere at SRS.

“For example, criticality control overpack storage and shipping containers storing plutonium down-blend will be characterized, stored, and shipped from the Site’s K Area Complex storage and production facility instead of from SWMF,” Crawford said.

“Doing site acceptance testing through video is an inventive and effective way to ensure continued work during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sonitza Blanco, director of the DOE-Savannah River Waste Disposition Programs Division. “This is something we will evaluate for future use as a cost savings.”

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