Reclassification of HLW could reduce risks while saving billions, DOE says

An engineered stainless steel container designed to hold LLW at Hanford. Photo: Bechtel National, Inc.

A Department of Energy report to the U.S. Congress shows that the reclassification of high-level radioactive waste could save more than $200 billion in treatment and disposal costs while allowing DOE sites to be cleaned up sooner—all still without jeopardizing public health and safety.

The report, Evaluation of Potential Opportunities to Classify Certain Defense Nuclear Waste from Reprocessing as Other than High-Level Radioactive Waste, identifies potential opportunities for the DOE to reduce risk to public and environment while completing its cleanup mission more efficiently and effectively. Those opportunities are based on the DOE’s 2019 interpretation of the statutory term HLW, which classifies waste based on its radiological characteristics rather than its origin.

Under the DOE’s interpretation of HLW, waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel may be determined to be non-HLW if the waste (1) does not exceed concentration limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste as set out in federal regulations and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility; or (2) does not require disposal in a deep geologic repository and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility as demonstrated through a performance assessment conducted in accordance with applicable requirements.

Savannah River contract awarded to Battelle-led group

A new M&O contract was awarded for SRNL. Photo: DOE

A management and operating (M&O) contract for the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) valued at approximately $3.8 billion was awarded to Battelle Savannah River Alliance (BSRA), a consortium of universities and private firms led by Columbus, Ohio–based Battelle. Awarded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, the cost-plus-award-fee contract will include a five-year base period (inclusive of 120-day transition period) and potential term of up to five more years, for a total period of up to 10 years.

As announced by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management on December 22, the new SRNL M&O contract is expected to enhance the laboratory’s ability to focus on research and development, increase its flexibility to pursue more diversified projects, and attract talent and the involvement of other research and academic institutions in its projects.

BSRA takes over responsibility for the SRNL work scope from the larger Savannah River Site (SRS) M&O contract with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. The transition of the management and operation of SRNL to the new contract will start following issuance of a notice to proceed to BSRA, the DOE said.

NNSA to review its “dilute and dispose” option for surplus Pu

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration intends to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) evaluating alternatives for the safe disposal of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium through its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The NNSA published in the December 16 Federal Register its intent to prepare the EIS, which will examine the agency’s preferred alternative, “dilute and dispose,” also known as “plutonium downblending,” and other identified alternatives for disposing of the material.

The NNSA is offering the public the opportunity to comment on the proposed scope of the EIS until February 1. In light of the COVID-19 health crisis, the agency will host an Internet- and phone-based virtual public scoping meeting in place of an in-person meeting. The date of the meeting will be provided in a future notice posted on the NNSA website.

Savannah River's Ford Building comes down

Demolition of the Ford Building at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been completed, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) announced on November 18. The large metal storage building formerly contained mechanical systems used during the Cold War to remotely raise and lower control rods within nuclear reactor vessels.

Workers have also sealed the Ford Building’s original concrete flooring with six inches of new concrete. Teardown of the facility brings the number of structures that have been deactivated and decommissioned at the site to 292.

TOFE 2020 opening plenary: Looking back and forward

Presented as an embedded topical meeting at the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, the Technology of Fusion Energy (TOFE) 2020 meeting opened on November 16 with the first of four plenary sessions to be held during the week: “Looking Back and Looking Forward in Fusion.” (TOFE 2020 also features 29 technical sessions through November 19.)

The plenary session, chaired by Savannah River National Laboratory’s Greg Staack, featured two speakers: Melissa Hanson, curator for the Savannah River Site Cold War Historic Preservation Program, and Heather Lewtas, a technical lead for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)’s Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production program.

SRR renews agreement with Denmark Technical College

From left: Denmark Technical College president and CEO Willie Todd, Jr. gives SRR chief operating officer and deputy project manager Mark Schmitz and SRR president and project manager Phil Breidenbach a tour of a student lab.

Savannah River Remediation (SRR), the liquid waste contractor at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, signed a memorandum of understanding on October 7 with Denmark Technical College (DTC), one of South Carolina’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

SRR signed an original MOU with DTC in 2019. The new MOU is effective through September 2021.

Proposals being accepted for $21 billion Savannah River contract

Savannah River’s integrated mission contract will combine liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has begun accepting bids on a new 10-year, $21-billion contract for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. EM issued a final request for proposal for the SRS integrated mission completion contract (IMCC) on October 1, posting it to EM’s dedicated SRS IMCC website.

The IMCC would coalesce the work of two current contractors, including Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor led by Amentum with partners Bechtel National, Jacobs, and BWX Technologies, into a single contract, combining liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The deadline for proposals for the site contract is December 1.

Celebration held for startup of Savannah River’s Salt Waste Processing Facility

Participants in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site included, from left, Rep. Joe Wilson; Parsons chairman and chief executive officer Chuck Harrington; under secretary for science Paul Dabbar; DOE-Savannah River manager Mike Budney; DOE senior advisor William "Ike" White; Parsons president and chief operations officer Carey Smith; SWPF federal project director Pam Marks; and Parsons senior vice president and SWPF project manager Frank Sheppard. Photo: DOE

The launch of the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina was marked on September 24 with a ceremony attended by the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for science, Paul Dabbar, and senior advisor to the undersecretary for environmental management, William “Ike” White. Also attending the event were Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) and representatives from the offices of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.).

“SWPF is the final piece to what is an impressive and highly successful liquid waste program here,” said Dabbar, who served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “Bringing it on line is a tremendous victory, not only for the site, but for the entire cleanup mission.”

DOE ends dispute with South Carolina on Pu removal

The DOE is working to remove plutonium stored at its Savannah River Site.

The Department of Energy has reached a settlement with the state of South Carolina to remove 9.5 metric tons (t) of plutonium from the state, the agency announced on August 31. Under the settlement, which resolves litigation over the storage of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., the state will receive an upfront lump sum of $600 million in economic and impact assistance payments. In return, the DOE will be allowed more time (through 2037) to remove the plutonium from the state without the threat of lawsuits.

The settlement stems from the DOE's termination of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in 2018. The MOX facility was intended to meet a nonproliferation agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 t of weapons-grade plutonium by converting it to nuclear fuel for commercial power reactors. Reported to be 70-percent completed when construction was halted, the MOX facility was approximately $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule, according to the DOE.

Salt Waste Processing Facility at SRS approved for start

The Department of Energy approved the start of operations at the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS), authorizing hot (radioactive) operations to begin at the facility, the agency announced on August 17.

The approval comes five months ahead of the current baseline completion date of January 31, 2021. Parsons Corporation, which designed and built the first-of-a-kind facility, will operate it for one year.

“This is a considerable achievement for EM's (Environmental Management) cleanup program and will drive significant progress in treating the tank waste at SRS in the next decade,” said William “Ike” White, senior advisor for the EM to the Under Secretary for Science.

DOE to ship Savannah River waste to Texas under new HLW interpretation

The Department of Energy’s demonstration case of how it applies its interpretation of high-level radioactive waste is set to go forward, as the department issued an environmental assessment (EA) report, Final Environmental Assessment for the Commercial Disposal of Defense Waste Processing Facility Recycle Wastewater from the Savannah River Site (final EA), and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the disposal of the waste at an off-site facility.

Based on the final EA, the DOE intends to ship up to 8 gallons of recycle wastewater from the Savannah River Site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) to the Waste Control Specialists disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas, starting within the next 12 months. Under the final EA, up to 10,000 gallons DWPF recycle wastewater may be disposed of at a licensed facility outside of South Carolina.

SRS liquid waste facilities get upgrade to computer operating systems

Janice Sandford, forefront, and other operators are shown in the Defense Waste Processing Facility control room. Savannah River Remediation recently upgraded its control system hardware and software. Photo: David Lawrence/URS Corp.

An upgrade to modernize computer systems across the Savannah River Site's liquid waste facilities while maintaining cybersecurity industry standards was completed recently, the site’s liquid waste contractor announced on June 25. The Savannah River Site is located in Aiken, S.C.

Savannah River HB Line placed in safe shutdown status

The HB Line facility at SRS is located on top of the H Canyon chemical separations facility.

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.

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Waste Management Conference: Focused on the future

2020 Waste Management Conference plenary speakers included (from left) Michael Lempke, of Huntington Ingalls Industries, William Magwood, of the NEA, and the DOE’s William “Ike” White. Photo: WM Symposia/Flash Gordon.

The 2020 Waste Management Conference, held March 8–12 in Phoenix, Ariz., kicked off just days before the World Health Organization declared the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic. When the conference began, it was still unclear how extensive the coronavirus outbreak would be, and meeting organizers later learned that two attendees were tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the days following the meeting. Fortunately, neither of the attendees tested positive.