Savannah River’s Salt Waste Processing Facility begins full operations

January 25, 2021, 12:07PMRadwaste Solutions

An aerial view of the Salt Waste Processing Facility at SRS. Photo: DOE

The hot commissioning testing phase of operations at the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) has been completed, signaling the facility’s entrance into fully integrated operations with the other liquid waste facilities at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Radiation shielding, environmental emissions, and product waste acceptance requirements were all tested and validated during the commissioning phase of the SWPF, the DOE announced on January 19. The SWPF will treat the approximately 31 million gallons of remaining salt waste currently stored in underground tanks at SRS.

Parsons Corporation, the contractor that designed and built the first-of-a-kind facility, will operate the SWPF for one year, beginning this month. It is anticipated that the facility will process up to 6 million gallons of waste during the first year of operations.

Tank waste: Processing of the radioactive waste began in early October, and by mid-November the SWPF had begun processing undiluted feed from Tank 49 in Savannah River’s H Tank Farm. According to the DOE, all hot commissioning testing objectives were met on schedule and without incident. In total, more than 450,000 gallons of decontaminated salt solution have been transferred from the SWPF.

The startup of the SWPF is the last major piece of the liquid waste system at SRS and, according to the DOE, represents a significant leap forward in the department’s ability to tackle the largest and one of its most challenging environmental risks—legacy radioactive tank waste. With the SWPF fully operational, it is expected that nearly all of the salt waste inventory at SRS will be processed by 2030.

The process: The remediation of radioactive waste begins with the transfer of the waste from the H Tank Farm to the SWPF, where it undergoes a two-step separation process. The first step removes strontium and actinides, such as uranium and plutonium, from the waste. The second step, known as caustic-side solvent extraction, removes radioactive cesium.

After the separation processes are completed, the concentrated high-activity waste is sent to the nearby Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) for immobilization through vitrification. The decontaminated salt solution is mixed with cement-like grout at the nearby Saltstone Production Facility (SPF) for disposal on-site.

Transfers of these waste streams out of the SWPF were also completed during hot commissioning. The decontaminated salt solution from the SWPF has been sent to the SPF. The actinide-laden sludge solids and the cesium-laden strip effluent radioactive waste streams, removed from the salt waste by the SWPF, have been sent to the DWPF, where the concentrated waste will be vitrified and stored in stainless steel canisters on-site until a federal repository is available.

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