An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site.
An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site.

AIKEN, S.C.EM’s Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) has successfully processed more than 1 million gallons of radioactive waste at Savannah River Site (SRS) since the first-of-a-kind facility began processing the legacy material in October 2020.

Jim Folk, DOE-Savannah River Assistant Manager for Waste Disposition, said SWPF has performed largely as expected and represents DOE’s ability to continue substantial progress toward tank closure.

“The success of SWPF to date enables the Department to begin planning for closing the remaining SRS waste tanks at an unprecedented rate,” Folk said.

The first batch of radioactive waste was transferred to SWPF Oct. 5, beginning “hot” commissioning of the facility. In its first month of operation, SWPF received eight transfers totaling nearly 86,000 gallons of waste. Parsons Corporation designed and built SWPF, and currently operates the facility.

Once the waste is received at SWPF, it undergoes a two-step cleanup process to separate highly radioactive waste from the less-radioactive salt solution. The first step removes strontium and actinides, such as uranium and plutonium, from the waste. The second step, known as Caustic Side Solvent Extraction, is designed for the removal of radioactive cesium.

After the separation process is complete, the concentrated high-activity waste is sent to the nearby Defense Waste Processing Facility, where it is converted into a solid glass form and stored in 10-foot-tall stainless steel canisters. The decontaminated salt solution is mixed with cement-like grout at the nearby Saltstone Production Facility for disposal onsite. The amount of salt waste processed has exceeded 1.1 million gallons.

SWPF completed testing and hot commissioning on Jan. 17, 2021 and has been fully integrated with the other SRS liquid waste facilities.

Parsons continues to operate SWPF conservatively during the first year, ensuring the facility operates as designed, and identifying and addressing any issues that may arise in the facility.

“The dedicated men and women of SWPF have met the challenges of initial startup of this first-of-a-kind nuclear facility with a primary focus on safety, but also a strong sense of urgency,” said Mike Pittman, Parsons vice president and project manager of SWPF.

In 2021, EM expects to operate the SWPF at a rate of 6 million gallons per year. By 2031, it is expected that nearly all of the salt waste inventory will be processed, and F-Tank Farm will be nearly empty.