Waste Management

Savannah River / Hot Commissioning Begins With First Batch Of Radioactive Waste

By David Dalton
9 October 2020

Hot Commissioning Begins With First Batch Of Radioactive Waste
An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility. Courtesy US DOE.
The US Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina has begun hot commissioning of the first 18,000-litre batch of radioactive waste in its new Salt Waste Processing Facility, a process which is expected to take about 10 days.

Construction of the facility was a 20-year project and it is expected to treat all the waste stored at Savannah River within 10 years. In August the DOE authorised “hot” or radioactive operations to begin at the SWPF, signalling project completion and the transition from project phase to operations.

The Aiken Standard reported that approximately 18,000 litres of waste was transferred to the facility on Monday. Savannah River Remediation, the liquid-waste contractor at the Savannah River Site, moved the inaugural batch from the H Tank Farm, the underground storage system where waste is kept and monitored.

The arrival of radioactive waste at the SWPF this week was in line with expectations laid out last month. A ceremony marking the official startup of the facility was held on 24 September.

With a goal to process 140 million litres of radioactive salt waste stored in the tanks at the Savannah River Site, the DOE selected prime contractor Parsons Corporation to design, build, and commission the SWPF, and operate the facility for one year. Parsons finished building the SWPF in April 2016, eight months ahead of schedule and more than $65m under the target cost of the contract for construction.

The SWPF is the last major piece of the liquid waste system at Savannah River and will process most of the site’s salt waste inventory by separating the highly radioactive waste – mostly caesium, strontium, actinides, and waste slurry – from the less radioactive salt solution.

After the initial separation process is completed, the concentrated high-activity waste will be sent to the nearby defence waste processing facility (DWPF). The decontaminated salt solution will be mixed with cement-like grout at the nearby Saltstone facility for disposal on site.

Removing salt waste, which fills over 90% of tank space in the Savannah River Site tank farms, is a major step toward emptying and closing the site’s 43 remaining high-level waste tanks.

Nuclear material production operations at Savannah River resulted in the generation of liquid radioactive waste that is being stored, on an interim basis, in 49 underground waste storage tanks.

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