Two men in white hazmat suits stand beside a container
Savannah River Site operators in plastic suits prepare for the drum venting operations.

AIKEN, S.C.EM team members at the Savannah River Site (SRS) recently came up with a creative way to ensure the integrity of storage containers holding radioactive material in long-term storage.

The team, which included Savannah River National Laboratory employees, designed and fabricated a tool to pierce cans containing the radioactive material to relieve pressure caused by a buildup of hydrogen gasses. The material is stored in plastic bags and bottles inside the sealed cans, which are held within two 30-gallon drums.

“It is typical for hydrogen gasses, which are flammable, to be generated by decomposition of plastics inside the sealed cans,” said Steve Osteen, an operations specialist with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the SRS managing and operating contractor.

The team also created a safe process for venting the cans that includes the use of a containment hut and protective plastic suits for operators.

The team’s goal was to ensure the safety of both drums in storage. As a result of the team’s work, the drums can be safely stored at the site for an estimated 100 additional years if needed.

The two 30-gallon drums containing the radioactive material are stored in the Dry Fuel Storage Area of the site’s L Area Disassembly Basin. They were shipped to SRS from the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant in 2007 and 2008.

SRS had planned to send the material to the site’s HB Line facility for disposition. However, changes in the site’s mission prevented the material from being processed there before the facility went into safe shutdown in 2020. The drums now await a final onsite disposition path.

“The container piercing was executed safely and then the containers were returned to storage,” L Area Facility Manager Neil McIntosh said. “The safe execution of this process was a result of extensive planning, dry runs and mock-ups conducted by the team.”

The team practiced venting mock containers in plastic suits while simulating the confines of the containment hut.

“The evolution was practiced until proficiency was achieved and the team was ready to safely execute the work,” McIntosh said.

-Contributor: Lindsey MonBarren