AIKEN, SC., (Jan. 20, 2021) – The Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) has successfully completed the hot commissioning testing phase of operations, having validated radiation shielding, environmental emissions, and product waste acceptance requirements while processing over 320,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste from a tank farm at the Savannah River Site (SRS). Completion of the hot commissioning testing phase signals the facility’s entrance into fully integrated operations with the other SRS liquid waste facilities.
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Parsons Corporation, the contractor that designed and built the first-of-a-kind facility, will now operate SWPF for one year, beginning this month. It is anticipated the facility will process up to 6 million gallons of waste during the first year of operations. SWPF is designed to significantly increase the site’s ability to empty and close radioactive waste tanks and dramatically reduce that legacy environmental risk. “The start of operations enables DOE to now close waste tanks at an unprecedented rate,” said DOE Savannah River Operations Office Manager Mike Budney.
Processing of the radioactive waste began in early October and by mid-November 2020, SWPF had begun processing undiluted feed from Tank 49 in H Tank Farm. All hot commissioning testing objectives were met on schedule and without incident. In total, over 450,000 gallons of decontaminated salt solution have been transferred from SWPF.
The remediation of radioactive waste begins by transferring the waste from H Tank Farm to 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, is designed to remove radioactive cesium.
After the separation processes are completed, the concentrated high-activity waste is sent to the nearby Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF). The decontaminated salt solution is mixed with cement-like grout at the nearby Saltstone Production Facility (SPF) for disposal onsite.
Transfers of these waste streams out of SWPF were also completed successfully during hot commissioning. The decontaminated salt solution from 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 SWPF, have been sent to the DWPF, where the concentrated waste will be immobilized in glass and stored in stainless steel canisters onsite until a federal repository is made available.
“The men and women of the Salt Waste Processing Facility have consistently demonstrated the ability to safely and efficiently operate a first-of-a-kind nuclear facility up to and including the successful completion of all requirements of the hot commissioning testing program,” said Mike Pittman, Parsons vice president of nuclear operations and SWPF project manager. “Their commitment and attention to detail was instrumental in demonstrating SWPF can safely process high-level radioactive waste that fully meets all waste acceptance criteria at a rate that greatly exceeds contractual requirements.”
Startup of the SWPF is the last major piece of the liquid waste system at SRS and represents a significant leap forward in DOE’s ability to tackle the largest and one of the most challenging environmental risks — legacy radioactive tank waste. Now that SWPF is fully operational, it is expected that nearly all of the salt waste inventory at SRS will be processed by 2030.