Savannah River doubles shifts for processing surplus Pu

July 8, 2021, 6:57AMRadwaste Solutions
A view of Savannah River’s K Area Complex, where plutonium downblending operations take place. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management has doubled the number of work shifts for employees in glove box operations at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The increased work pace will help the department meet its commitment to South Carolina to remove surplus plutonium from the state, the DOE said.

“Moving from two- to four-shift glove box operations increases our plutonium downblending rates through our existing glove box,” said Maxwell Smith, K Area deputy operations manager for SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS).

SRNS put together a team of 48 operators and support personnel needed to fill the four shifts and is managing a pipeline program of 10 employees to fill positions as needed from attrition, Smith said.

Pu removal: The DOE was legally required to remove 9.5 metric tons of plutonium from South Carolina by January 1, 2022. In September 2020, however, the DOE reached an agreement with the state, extending the deadline to 2037. The DOE required more time to remove the material after the cancellation of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in 2018 in favor of using a “dilute and dispose” method of managing the plutonium.

Under the dilute and dispose method, the plutonium is converted to an oxide and then mixed with a multicomponent adulterant. The resulting downblended waste enables the DOE to meet requirements for shipping plutonium to the department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for final disposition.

Working smarter: According to the DOE, moving to four shifts is part of a plan to increase the efficiency of Savannah River’s K Area Complex. Last year, workers improved the K Area Interim Surveillance glove box, where downblending currently occurs.

Workers also recently completed construction of a storage and shipping pad for interim storage of downblended materials before they are shipped out of South Carolina for permanent disposal. The DOE said the first shipment is planned for March 2022.

Ahead of schedule: SRS boosted the shifts for glove box operations ahead of schedule despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOE said.

“The fact that we were able to train employees, prepare, and initiate the additional shifts ahead of schedule was an impressive feat, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated reduction of on-site staffing and social distancing requirements,” said Lee Sims, K Area Complex facility manager. “We attribute much of this success to the veteran operators on staff who have worked diligently to make sure the newer operators are trained, prepared, and ready to work safely.”

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