2012 was a year of great change and great accomplishment at the Savannah River Site.

The completion of work funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and the closure of two million-gallon, cold war-era waste tanks were accomplishments that, literally and figuratively, changed the face of the Department of Energy site. These actions were done as the Site shed significant quantities of staff.

“When I look back over 2012 and all that we have accomplished, I am proud, and you should be, as well,” said Dr. David Moody, DOE Manager at the Savannah River Site.

Tank Closures

The biggest milestone of the year was achieved by the liquid waste contractor at SRS, Savannah River Remediation. On Oct. 1, they marked the closure of the first tanks of their kind in 15 years and two of the oldest, and therefore posing the most significant environmental threat.

Underground tanks 18 and 19, located in the F-Area tank farm, are 85 feet in diameter, 33 feet high and have a storage capacity of about 1.3 million gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste – large enough to fit a high school basketball court inside of it. The tanks were emptied of 99 percent of the waste, which was glassified and turned into logs for storage.

Thomas D’Agostino, Under Secretary of Energy, called the closings “historic” for the site and DOE.

The tanks were constructed in 1958 and were in operation until the early 1980s, when waste removal began. The closure of the tanks signified “the most substantial environmental risk reduction achievement for the state since 1997,” according to Catherine Templeton, director of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. DOE closed Tanks 17 and 20 in 1997, the first for SRS and the nation.

According to Moody, another 13 tanks are in various stages of emptying and preparing for closure. The first of these is scheduled to be closed in 2013.

ARRA Completion

One of the most significant initiatives of the ARRA era was that of removing the legacy TRU at SRS. In 2012, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions shipped 1,600 cubic meters of SRS legacy transuranic waste to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. for disposal. According to DOE, this was the SRS TRU Waste Program’s best year ever.

At the end of the year, SRNS said that 95 percent of legacy waste will have been removed.

TRU waste is solid waste, consisting of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris and other items contaminated with trace amounts of plutonium.

Reducing the footprint of the site, so that secure land could be used for future projects was another goal of ARRA funding. In August, SRNS announced that the 75 percent reduction in footprint goal had been surpassed. With the completion of the Lower Three Runs Project, the management and operations contractor reached an 85 percent reduction.

Lower Three Runs is 20 miles long and leaves the main body of the site and runs through areas of Barnwell and Allendale counties until it flows into the Savannah River.

Biomass Replaces Coal

In March, SRS celebrated the operational startup of the Biomass Cogeneration Facility, a project completed through a private-public partnership expected to result in $944 million in cost-savings to the site over 19 years.

Contractor Ameresco’s biomass facility, a 34-acre operation that uses wood chips and tires from the areas surrounding the site to put through a process to create steam, was constructed through a 19-year, $795 million energy savings performance contract to replace a 1950s-era coal-burning powerhouse that was due for replacement.

The facility will also provide a line to the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at SRS and will serve the Defense Waste Processing Facility and H-Canyon.

Recently, officials for MFFF said that the new facility will produce significantly more power than it will need.

The facility is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100,000 tons per year, reduce sulfur dioxide by 2,500 tons per year and reduce nitrous oxide by 3,500 tons per year, according to Ameresco.

The replaced facility, D-Area powerhouse, was once capable of generating 75 million watts of power – enough to provided electricity to the entire city of Aiken.

Shutting down the powerhouse means approximately 160,000 tons of coal purchased each year would no longer be necessary, SRNS president and CEO Dwayne Wilson said at the time.

Staff Reductions

Moody believes the accomplishments of SRS workers are “made even more significant” because they were achieved “despite staff reductions and funding constraints. (The workers) continued to press forward, finding new ways and solutions, to ensure we met commitments and achieved results in our cleanup, national security and nonproliferation programs.”

Fiscal belt tightening, the conclusion of ARRA work and wrestling with the constraints of the FY2012 Continuing Resolution, have seen staff reduction initiatives from both SRNS and SRR in 2012.

The year began with ARRA workers being released as those temporary programs wound down or concluded.

These efforts to reduce expenditure continued through the year with the fall seeing SRR and SRNS offer voluntary separation initiatives. Many took advantage of the cost-saving strategy, but numbers were not as high as either had hoped.

Further action was taken by SRNS when they reduced staff at SRS to an essential personnel only in the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. Staff had to use vacation time or go unpaid for those work weeks, which were already shortened by holidays.