Leak shuts down evaporator at Savannah River Site

An element in the liquid waste cleanup process at Savannah River Site is offline after a number of leaks were identified inside.


According to reports from the Defense Nuclear facilities safety Board, the “pot” inside the apparatus known as the 3H Evaporator recently developed leaks. A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Energy said no waste was leaked out of the cell into the environment.

“The evaporator leak was contained in a controlled radiological area inside the concrete evaporator cell lined with stainless steel,” the department spokesperson said in an email interview.

According to reports, the waste was removed from the evaporators to the storage tanks and the leaking pot was filled with water. Due to the nature of the operation, human personnel are not allowed inside, meaning the work had to be completed and monitored remotely.

According to the spokesperson, “The pot was refilled with water to identify the leaks so that additional waste did not leak onto the cell floor and to reduce potential exposure risk for employees.”

The evaporator is one of two in use at SRS and began operations in 2000. It is part of the DOE’s Environmental Management complex and is a cog in the processes to clean up legacy waste from Cold War operations at the site.

There are two components to liquid waste at SRS, a sludge component and a salt component. The sludge is highly radioactive and is vitrified into glass columns stored in specialized containers. Salt waste is the other component. While less radioactive than the sludge, it makes up the majority of volume in the aging storage tanks.

To alleviate problems with containing high volumes of waste, the evaporators boil the salty waste to remove water, reducing volume by as much as 30 percent.

The liquid waste operations on site are handled by Savannah River Remediation. SRR used remote robotic technology to examine the pot and determined three leak sites inside. The Kuka robotic arm used a specialized cutting tool to gain access to the heavily shielded portions of the evaporator’s insides.

The Energy Department spokesperson confirmed that no personnel were exposed to the leaked material. The other evaporator on site began operations in 1982 and is currently functioning as intended.

“A thorough evaluation is being performed to determine repair viability,” the spokesperson said. “In the meantime, a team is working to develop potential repair methods and SRR has begun the process of ordering a new evaporator vessel to replace the old evaporator pot should that become necessary.”

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.



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