Savannah River Site
Located near Aiken, South Carolina, on 310 square miles, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site (SRS) is an industrial complex that focuses on national security, environmental stewardship and clean energy. With an annual budget of $2 billion and a dedicated work force of approximately 10,000, SRS has maintained the highest possible safety and security standards.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions is the management and operating contractor of SRS, and Savannah River Remediation is responsible for liquid waste operations. Other employers include the U.S. Forest Service-Savannah River and other DOE contractors, WSI-SRS, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, Parsons and the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
During the early 1950s, SRS began to produce materials used in nuclear weapons. Five reactors were built, along with support facilities including two chemical separations plants known as “canyons,” a heavy water extraction plant, a nuclear fuel and target fabrication facility, a tritium extraction facility and waste management facilities. Irradiated materials were chemically processed to separate useful products from waste. After refinement, nuclear materials were shipped to other DOE sites for final application. SRS produced about 36 metric tons of plutonium from 1953 to 1988 under the management of DuPont. SRS also produced all of the nation’s tritium, another integral component of nuclear weapons.
Research and Development
The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) puts science to work to create, test and deploy solutions to the technological challenges facing the Site and the nation. SRNL researchers have made significant advances in glass technology, hydrogen technology, nonproliferation technology, environmental characterization and cleanup, radioactive waste treatment, sensors and probes and other fields.
While the laboratory continues to solve the Site’s technological challenges, about half of its work comes from non-SRS customers, including DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration, other DOE sites and other federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. SRNL also forms strategic partnerships with private industry, academia and other government agencies to apply the laboratory’s unique expertise to challenges of mutual interest, and shares its expertise by licensing private companies to manufacture and market technologies.
Used nuclear fuel from the Site’s production reactors and domestic and foreign research reactor programs is stored at the L Area Complex to await final disposition. L Basin, SRS’ fuel receipt and storage facility, has concrete walls three-feet thick and holds 3.5 million gallons of water to shield workers from radiation. The K Area Complex at SRS provides handling and interim storage for much of the nation’s excess plutonium and special nuclear materials in a safe and environmentally sound manner. It is also recognized as a leader for managing plutonium surveillance in the DOE complex.
H Canyon is the only operational, large-scale facility of its type in the country - capable of disposing of surplus used fuel, uranium, plutonium and neptunium materials. It has operated safely for more than 55 years with a qualified and skilled work force that has been renewed over the decades, maintaining quality performance and operational reliability for DOE. Since 2003, the canyon has recovered surplus highly enriched uranium and blended it down for energy use versus disposing of the material as waste. The blended -down uranium is used for fuel in Tennessee Valley Authority commercial nuclear reactors.
Approximately 37 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste at SRS is dispositioned through several on-Site processes, which will ultimately result in the operational closure of the Site’s high-level waste tanks. The Saltstone Facilities, the Saltstone Production Facility and the Saltstone Disposal Facility, safely stabilize and dispose of low-level radioactive liquid salt wastes. Most of the Site’s tank farm waste will be immobilized as glass or cement-like grout. The Defense Waste Processing Facility, converts liquid nuclear waste currently stored at SRS into a solid glass form suitable for long-term storage and disposal. Soluble salts must be treated, and the Salt Waste Processing Facility under construction will provide high volume, highly efficient treatment capacity for longer-term salt processing at SRS.
Transuranic (TRU) waste, which contains alpha-emitting isotopes with an atomic number greater than uranium and radioisotopes with an over 20-year half-life, had been temporarily stored at SRS until the opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a DOE deep geological disposal facility specifically designed for TRU waste in New Mexico. SRS has been shipping its legacy TRU waste since 2001.
National Nuclear Security Administration
With a half-life of 12.3 years, Tritium must be replenished and SRS is the Nation’s only facility for extracting, recycling, purifying and reloading tritium, which is shipped to the military – now over 53 years with no missed shipments.
Work continues for the Waste Solidification Building, which will process radioactive liquid waste streams, and the Pit Disassembly and Conversion project, a first-of-a-kind capability that will disassemble surplus nuclear weapon pits and convert the pit plutonium metal other surplus non-pit plutonium metal into a plutonium oxide powder.
The Savannah River Operations Office Area Completion Project (ACP) is responsible for removing excess facilities and remediating surface water and groundwater in waste units. In its efforts to remediate contaminants in the environment, ACP approaches environmental restoration by utilizing effective project management and strong working relationships with the regulators. Deployment of numerous cost-effective technologies expedites the cleanup process for DOE.
SRS is concentrating on shrinking the footprint left from decades of operations and to also better position the Site for future missions through Decommissioning and Demolition. The $1.6 billion received in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has accelerated the cleanup processes at the Site.