Advisory Board hears SRS progress, outlines priorities

In its first meeting since January, the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board heard updates from several government agencies and set out some of its highest priorities for the year ahead.

 

Savannah River Site Manager Jack Craig reminded the board, which included several new members, that SRS is operating under a continuing resolution. Appropriations were not allocated by Congress for fiscal year 2017, leaving the site to depend on funding amounts approved in 2016.

Appropriations from Congress lock funding levels into projects in compartmentalized sections, preventing the department from moving money between programs at will.

“We were able to successfully reprogram over $33 million from two construction projects on site that we had completed or were ahead of schedule to our liquid waste program and to our nuclear materials program,” Craig said.

He also said SRS expects to begin shipping transuranic waste, or TRU waste, from the site for the first time in more than three years. That waste is sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The waste is primarily composed of items like gloves and protective clothing that are contaminated during operations.

WIPP was closed in 2014 after a truck fire in the underground mine. The facility reopened in January and Craig said the Energy Department expects the first shipment to leave SRS in coming weeks.

There are approximately 1,000 drums of waste at SRS designated for the pilot plant, which would amount to about 100 shipments. Craig said once the shipments get underway, they hope the plant will accept four per week and that one of those weekly shipments comes from SRS.

He also noted that progress continues with the new ion exchange equipment that is being put to the test at the site’s liquid waste tanks. The equipment is known as Tank Closure Cesium Removal, and is designed to help eliminate waste and aid in processing high-level liquid waste.

The equipment’s design and operation contract was awarded to Westinghouse, which is expected to file bankruptcy this week. However, Craig told the board it had assurances that TCCR would not be affected and said Savannah River Site is closely monitoring the situation.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed to the board that there are a number of tritium groundwater plumes on site, but also noted clean-up was ongoing. Shelley Wilson, of DHEC, said the organization was concerned about cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency as proposed by the Trump Administration. She told the board that DHEC was working to ensure the cuts would have as minimal an impact as possible.

In a letter addressed to Jack Craig, the advisory board discussed several of its highest priorities for SRS in the coming year. Chief among those is the plutonium downblending process that prepares the nuclear material for disposition at WIPP. The advisory board also said it wanted to maintain spent nuclear fuel processing through H-Canyon as a high priority.

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

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