Savannah River Site cleanup misses targets

An electrical problem, an unexpected chemical reaction and machinery down for months are among the reasons the cleanup program at the Savannah River Site fell far below some production targets last year.

 

A report presented to members of the Citizens Advisory Board by Department of Energy planning analyst Rich Olsen detailed the missed targets.

For example, the year’s target for nuclear-materials management was 20 containers, but only eight were completed. For liquid-waste vitrification, 156 canisters were planned but only 93 made it. And the saltstone process for liquid waste was to treat 1.2 million gallons but completed just 828,000.

The division did record some successes, such as closing one old-style tank, No. 16, as planned and disposing of less than 400 cubic meters of newly generated mixed and low-level waste as targeted.

Olsen’s presentation summed it up: “How did we do in FY 2015? Answer: continued progress but with challenges.”

Spokespersons for the contractors conducting these processes said there were no staffing changes as a result of the missed targets.

In the nuclear-materials processing, a power failure Jan. 7 that year in the HB Line led to discovery on Feb. 3 that equipment designed to keep the liquid mixed was not working. That equipment wasn’t back online until Aug. 3, half a year later, according to Barbara Smoak, communications director for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.

“SRNS initiated an investigation of this event and conducted a root-cause analysis to identify the underlying causes of the event,” she said. “Based upon the results of the review, corrective actions were made. Facility modifications and safety-analysis revisions were part of the corrective actions.”

She notes that other operations on the HB Line and in the H Canyon did continue during those six months.

Olsen also said canister production was impacted in the Defense Waste Processing Facility by an anti-form chemical added to keep vessels from filling with froth.

The chemical degrades into a flammable byproduct, which is no big deal in the melter, but engineers were surprised to find it in other parts of the process that weren’t as warm, according to Dean Campbell of Savannah River Remediation’s public affairs.

“When this finding was discovered, engineers studied the issue and proposed operational restrictions and additional compensatory controls that would allow DWPF to operate safely while this potential inadequacy is being resolved,” he said in an e-mail response to an inquiry. “DOE approved these interim restrictions/controls, and DWPF resumed operations.”

In the saltstone operations, Olsen’s presentation said they were affected by “higher than expected levels of mercury in liquid waste.”

However, Campbell said the amount of mercury was small and had no impact on saltstone operations.

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