The HB Line facility at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina was recently placed in a reversible safe shutdown status, the DOE announced on June 24. The shutdown will save about $40 million a year starting in 2021, compared to 2016, when the facility’s plutonium feedstock operation was at its peak.
The HB Line is located on top of the H Canyon chemical separations plant and is the only chemical processing facility of its kind in the DOE complex. The HB Line was built in the early 1980s to support the production of plutonium-238, which is a power source for the United States’ deep space exploration program, and to recover legacy materials stored in the H Canyon. It has been used more recently to make plutonium oxide, a non-weapons-usable form of plutonium.
Shutdown start: In February 2018, the DOE sent a letter of direction to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), the contractor that operates SRS, to proceed with placing the HB Line in safe shutdown status while preserving its capabilities for future use.
The principal scope of the shutdown involved three tasks: de-inventorying and flushing the facility’s product and cold chemical lines, which included anion exchange column resin removal; dispositioning legacy plutonium and uranium materials stored and previously used at the facility; and laying up support systems no longer needed.
Additional scope: Other work included reducing security for the facility; revising the facility’s technical safety requirements to reduce its minimum staffing requirements; and assimilating the H Canyon and HB Line organizations, aimed at reducing the future overall facility cost through the reduction in expenses related to maintenance, surveillance, and utilities.
He said it: “I have always maintained shutting down a plant is twice as hard as starting one up, mainly because you have to keep the plant running safely in the meantime,” said Nick Miller, HB Line facility manager. “The team executed this work all in-house, safely, without having to bring on any additional resources.”