The Savannah River Site received $1.134 billion in funding for the fiscal year – $46 million above the Department of Energy budget request.
“Under this budget, we will continue to make solid progress on our clean-up missions at SRS and build on our future as a successful DOE site,” said the Site's DOE spokesperson, Jim Giusti.
Constructed during the early 1950s to help create nuclear weapons as part of the nation's defense program, the Site is now undergoing clean-up missions as a result of that Cold War era and has taken on other national and international clean-up missions as well.
So what exactly is being done today at the Savannah River Site? The Aiken Standard looks at some of the Site's ongoing missions this fiscal year.
Waste tank closures
After closing liquid waste the tanks 5 and 6 last year, SRS is eyeing two more tank closures within the next two years. Remaining waste tanks currently hold hundreds of thousands of gallons of Cold War-era radioactive liquid waste.
The contractor in charge of closing the tanks is Savannah River Remediation – or SRR. Dean Campbell, from SRR public affairs, explained the contractor's role since inking a contract with the DOE in 2009. That role includes removing all of the waste from the tanks, cleaning the tanks and then pouring a special grout – or concrete solution – into the tanks to officially “close” them.
“Our contract is based on treating waste and putting it into either glass or concrete and then closing tanks,” Campbell said.
Giusti added, “Tanks 12 and 16 are the next SRS radioactive waste tanks scheduled for operational closure. The Federal Facility Agreement commitment date for the tanks is in September 2015.”
The agreement is between DOE and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Last year, the Department threatened to fine DOE $150 million if it failed to meet certain deadlines, including deadlines for waste tank closures.
As of now, six of the 24 old-style tanks have been operationally closed.
H Canyon/MOX Facility
Also on the Site's scope is the continued processing of used nuclear fuel at the Site's H Canyon facility. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions – or SRNS – is the Site's largest contractor and is involved in the process by producing plutonium oxide to fuel the MOX facility.
The MOX facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. Its work is part of a nonproliferation effort between the United States and Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium.
The HB Line – located at the top of H Canyon – is reportedly being prepared to dissolve and purify the excess plutonium for MOX feed material. The process has been reviewed by a board under the National Nuclear Security Administration and is currently awaiting a readiness assessment to ensure it is OK to start operating.
“We are restarting the readiness assessment on that process,” Giusti stated.
Right now, the MOX facility is about 60 percent complete, but the project has undergone years of cost overruns and delays. The Government Accountability Office reported in June 2013 that the plant is $3 billion over budget, costing an estimated $7.7 billion.
Waste Solidification Building
Plans are for materials generated from the MOX facility to be processed in the Waste Solidification Building, which is also now under construction at the Site.
SRNS workers began constructing the building in 2009 with a $345 million budget and an estimated completion date in 2013. Construction of the building is 95 percent complete, with no new completion date set.
Setbacks with the MOX facility have spilled over into problems for the waste building, which cannot be used until the MOX facility is in use. The building was recently placed on a five year “lay-up” – meaning the facility cannot be used for five years – by the National Nuclear Security Administration Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
The board stated that SRNS “is to develop the safety basis documents, submit them to NNSA, and maintain their configuration, but NNSA will not formally approve them during this lay-up period.”
Salt Waste Processing/Saltstone Disposal
Once complete, the SRS Salt Waste Processing Facility will be designed to provide treatment capacity for longer-term salt processing at SRS.
Low-level salt waste from salt treatment processing is planned to be sent to the Saltstone Production Facility, where it will be mixed with cement, ash and furnace slag and poured into permanent concrete vaults for safe disposal at the Saltstone Disposal Facility.
Originally targeted for operations by 2015, Giusti said there were delays on receiving the necessary tanks for the salt waste facility, which threw off the facility's schedule.
“Once it got delayed, we renegotiated the contract, and we're in the process of negotiating the operating and commissioning phase of the project right now,” Giusti said.
The facility now is reportedly beyond 70 percent complete with a newly scheduled December 2016 completion date.
Giusti added that the targeted date for completion for the disposal unit is mid-2017.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.