NEW ELLENTON — Members of the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board Waste Management Committee received an update Tuesday on upgrades that have improved speed and efficiency in the separation and removal of radioactive contaminants.
The process utilized at the Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit (MCU), which removes and separates varying levels of radioactive waste for eventual storage, has operated at peak production at times this year, according to Brent Gifford of Savannah River Remediation.
“Out mission (at MCU) is to continue to optimize the process ... to increase volume without increasing disposals in South Carolina,” Gifford said. “(Introduction of) next generation solvent improved performance and we have continued to benefit from improvements. In early 2015 we had the best performance we’ve ever had on record.”
Gifford said the facility had processed contaminated solution at up to around 8 gallons per minute (from a targeted average of 4 gallons per minute), with higher processing speeds only being limited by how fast the solution could be introduced into the facility.
“We are very pleased (with production),” Gifford said. “We have set 30-, 60- and 90-day production records and processed 5.4 million gallons since starting in 2008.”
In addition to down time for regular maintenance, Gifford said the MCU is also impacted by shutdowns at facilities ahead of it in the flow process, but that each of those instances have been used to complete upgrades that would increase efficiency in the process.
“If you have a hiccup in one facility it quickly ripples through other facilities,” Gifford said.
Two issues the facility tackled in 2015 included filtration improvements and “choke points” created by the increased production, which necessitated additional solution sampling.
“The faster you run the more samples you need and it’s kind of a winner’s problem, but it can lead to a choke point,” Gifford said, adding that changes have been made to lessen and eventually eliminate the problem. Gifford said the MCU facility expects to restart production this week to further test the additional modifications.
Citizens Advisory Board member Ginny Jones, who represents Richmond County, congratulated Gifford and his team on the success they have enjoyed this year.
“It’s a tribute to you and your staff that we continue to see these kinds of improvements,” Jones said. “I remember a presentation we had a while back and the statistics then, and then to see it today, that’s great.”
Hearing the update, CAB member David Hoel of Aiken County said he was concerned the MCU might be shuttered too soon ahead of the opening of a newer facility currently under construction. The Salt Waste Processing Facility, which Department of Energy officials say will render the MCU unnecessary with processing capabilities far superior to what is possible today, is expected to open in December 2016.
Jim Folk of DOE said the original plan had been to “take down” the MCU facility some 18 months ahead of completed construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility, but that the current plan will maintain production capability at the MCU facility until success at the new plant is confirmed.
“(Based on) numbers of hopefully 6 to 9 million gallons a year (processed), if everything is good we will have thanked MCU for a job well done and move on,” Folk said. “By that time we will have a good idea that the (SWPF) is good and ready to go.”
The SRS Citizens Advisory Board will meet again Dec. 8 at the New Ellenton Community Center starting at 4:30 p.m. for further committee meetings and additional site updates.