AIKEN, S.C. – EM Update recently talked with Frank Sheppard, senior vice president and project manager for Parsons, EM’s contractor for the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS). Parsons declared construction of the facility complete in April 2016, eight months ahead of the target schedule and more than $60 million under the target cost for construction activities from Dec. 31, 2012 through the end of construction. In the interview, Sheppard discusses the successful startup testing and how Parsons is capturing lessons learned to share with other major construction projects across the DOE complex.
1. Parsons is conducting startup testing before SWPF’s scheduled operational start by the end of 2018. How is testing going and how will the facility fit in to the SRS high-level waste mission once operational?
We worked hard with the Department of Energy to complete construction ahead of schedule last spring — and we are proud of that — but the ultimate goal is to get SWPF into operation. It’s been great to begin making progress on startup testing.
There is a series of tests — 60 individual system tests and five integrated system tests — that we need to complete during the test phase. By the end of February, we will have completed 26 of the 60 system operability tests. During these tests, all of SWPF’s components and systems are being rigorously tested to ensure they meet DOE’s strict safety and design requirements for waste processing.
So far, our testing program is on schedule and we hope to continue to be efficient and effective with these tests going forward and find opportunities for acceleration.
Our goal is to make the transition from startup testing to commissioning of SWPF by the end of 2017 and right now we’re actually shooting to make that transition in November.
We don’t want to waste a day because SWPF is such a key part of maximizing the high-level waste system at SRS. Once operational, SWPF will process the majority of the Savannah River Site’s salt waste inventory by treating highly radioactive salt solutions stored in underground tanks at SRS. Removing that salt waste, which fills over 90 percent of tank space in the SRS tank farms, is a big step toward emptying and closing the site’s remaining 43 high-level waste tanks.
2. SWPF is among multiple major ongoing DOE construction projects. How are you capturing lessons learned from these projects and sharing them across the complex?
DOE has made, what I view as a very wise decision, to support the development of a formal lessons learned document that covers the engineering design, construction and transition from construction to testing phases for use across the complex.
So we are really capturing these lessons learned — both from construction and from startup and commissioning — as we learn them rather than waiting until we’re done. Two or three years from now, this information might not be as easy to compile. We are finalizing this lessons learned document now and I believe this document can serve other DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration projects well.
When it comes to sharing these lessons, it helps that startup of SWPF is a very collaborative effort with the other site contractors, Savannah River Remediation (SRR) and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). Parsons and SRR have collaborated to hire 20 radiological technicians to support SRR efforts until December 2017 and then come back to work in SWPF as trained and experienced technicians. We are also working with SRNS to conduct our laboratory radiological methods development, which is expected to be completed by September 2017.
Separately, we’ve also partnered with the Department of Energy to share lessons learned with our counterparts in the United Kingdom who are working on similar construction projects, and those discussions are continuing. We’ve held a number of meetings to share our experiences and hear from the U.K. on what they are learning on their projects. It’s been incredibly valuable for both sides.
3. Are there specific lessons learned from construction or the transition to startup testing that are particularly notable?
Absolutely. You know, making the change from a construction focus to a startup testing focus is a challenge for the workforce. It’s important to be aware of this challenge, not only with the work itself but in the mindset of the workers.
With electrical safety, we encountered a few procedural disruptions during this transition. We also had new workers coming to the project who were experienced in their specialty but not necessarily experienced in working at a DOE site. In both cases, one of the biggest lessons learned was the need for training to be specifically targeted to this change in mindset and applying that change to the job.
On a positive note, one of the big lessons learned for this kind of project is to start by installing and testing the basic process control system — which is essentially the brains of the plant — first rather than toward the end of testing. While it creates some challenges out of the gate, the benefits far outweigh any challenges and we are really seeing the benefits from that on SWPF.
4. What do you expect in terms of workforce changes this year?
Staffing for the testing and commissioning phase has stabilized and we currently have about 450 employees. We plan to hire an additional 17 operators in June 2017 and 14 laboratory technicians in July 2017.
We’ve worked hard to achieve the right skill mix here and we’ve got a great team in place to get SWPF up and running. We all want to see this plant in operation so that it can begin supporting this vital mission for the Savannah River Site.
Maintaining the roofs of aging, contaminated facilities prevents water damage, the greatest threat to rapid deterioration and the spread of contamination. These factors create a more hazardous environment for future demolition crews that must enter the facility, and they increase the cost of cleanup exponentially.
“We are applying lessons we’ve learned from previous cleanup projects,” OREM Acting Manager Jay Mullis said. “Buildings that are neglected cause cleanup to be much more costly and complicated. Performing smaller tasks like this one to maintain facilities will create considerable savings by the time we begin major demolition at Y-12.”
Workers repaired 20 areas across Alpha 4’s four-acre roof, which has eight decks at various heights. Cleanup contractor URS | CH2M Oak Ridge LLC (UCOR), working with Y-12 management-and-operations contractor, Consolidated Nuclear Security, along with the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Roofing Asset Management Program, awarded the roofing subcontract to Nations Roofing. The work was completed in three months at $200,000 under the $1.25 million budget and two months ahead of schedule.
EM has been concerned with water infiltrating the building and intermingling with residual contaminants, particularly mercury in Alpha 4, and becoming mobile. Water has already degraded other facilities. For instance, characterization crews can no longer enter one facility in Y-12’s Biology Complex due to a fallen roof.
Alpha 4 supported the nation’s defense missions for years.
Constructed in 1944, the 560,000-square-foot Alpha 4 building activities included enriching uranium using electromagnetic separation as part of the Manhattan Project. The facility was placed in standby as other enrichment methods proved more efficient. In 1953, its original equipment was replaced with column exchange, or COLEX, to support thermonuclear weapons production. These operations, which required massive amounts of mercury, continued until 1962. Alpha 4 was shut down in 1987.
Building 235-F Risk Reduction Operator Sylvester Palmer practices using a tool for eventual use in the Building 235-F risk reduction mission.
AIKEN, S.C. – EM made significant progress reducing risk to workers and the environment by removing residual nuclear materials in several facilities in the Savannah River Site (SRS) F Area.
The program met an important milestone in the risk reduction mission in Building 235-F, which has been inactive for 25 years and contains residual plutonium-238 (Pu-238).
The Plutonium Fuel Form facility (PuFF), within Building 235-F, was used to make fuel spheres and pellets out of Pu-238 to electrically power deep space missions, such as the Galileo space probe to Jupiter, which launched from the Space Shuttle Atlantis in October 1989.
“Inside the PuFF facility are nine cells of thick concrete walls with shielded windows,” SRS F Area Director Michael Gilles said. “Employees worked with hazardous materials using remote manipulators, while they remained outside the cell. Material entered the PuFF in Cell 1, then traveled through the other cells to be made into spheres and pellets.”
That work left behind about 1,500 grams of Pu-238 in the cells — a conservative estimate. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the SRS managing and operating contractor, is managing the multi-year risk reduction mission in PuFF.
The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) worked with the Building 235-F risk reduction team to develop a better estimate of how much Pu-238 remains in the shielded cells.
SRNL is using existing technology and developing new tools to locate and remove or affix the Pu-238 to ensure it will not become mobile during decontamination activities. Any Pu-238 and contaminated tools removed will be safely stored for eventual packaging and shipment for disposal.
“This material removal is a big step toward completion of the risk reduction mission,” Gilles said. “We are still on track for completion by 2021.”
Workers recently reduced risk by decreasing the amount of nuclear material in inactive lab space in SRNL’s F/H Analytical Laboratories, an F Area facility.
RICHLAND, Wash. – Risk reduction work is safely underway inside and outside the Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) on the Hanford Site. While demolition continues on two of the plant's four main buildings, crews with contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CH2M) are preparing the other two buildings for teardown.
CH2M field work supervisor Gary Hix’s crew removed more than 750 feet of contaminated piping. The team cut and cleared the piping, piece by piece, over three and a half months. They worked in tight spaces, wearing extensive safety equipment. “The working conditions were some of the most challenging we have faced, but the crew did an excellent job,” Hix said. Crews have taken out about 82 percent of the 7,100 feet of similar piping in PFP.
Inside the main processing facility, crews removed or prepared to remove about 70 percent of the more than 1.5 miles of contaminated ventilation duct, which kept employees and the environment safe during plutonium production days. CH2M field work supervisor Jason Kevan’s crew members are cleaning out the contaminated former processing infrastructure and removing hazards like asbestos, which will take the next few months, before demolition begins on the remaining two PFP buildings.
The small-scale replica of the Denitration Mineralization Reformer, part of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit’s primary reaction vessel, is used for testing to resolve the facility's technical challenges.
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Work underway at a Colorado research facility to resolve technical challenges at the Idaho Site’s Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) is paying substantial dividends, with more to come.
“Hazen Research has been great to work with so far,” said Craig Porter, a chemical engineer for the startup project for IWTU, which is intended to treat the site’s remaining 900,000 gallons of tank waste. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of data so far in our tests using simulated, non-radioactive waste. It’s been very positive.”
Hazen, of Golden, Colo., constructed three testbeds to help resolve the issues with IWTU’s Denitration Mineralization Reformer (DMR). The DMR is the primary reaction vessel containing billions of tiny beads kept in a fluidized state with the help of superheated gases. Liquid waste enters the fluidized bed, coating the beads like the formation of pearls. The waste product is transferred to stainless steel canisters and ultimately concrete vaults. Past waste simulant runs at IWTU revealed difficulties in controlling this process, and a wall-scale resembling bark formed on the DMR’s interior walls.
Using a 2-inch-diameter fluidized bed constructed of quartz glass, Hazen researchers installed a camera outside the treatment vessel to record the change in fluidization as gas flow rates, mixtures and other parameters changed. Hazen fabricated a 2-inch-diameter stainless steel vessel for the testbed to provide data on the chemical processes that take place inside the treatment vessel. Idaho National Laboratory will use this same testbed at Hazen to determine the kinetics, or the speed of the primary chemical reactions inside the vessel.
In April, Hazen will focus on IWTU’s wall-scale formation challenges using the 2-inch diameter fluidized bed unit. Probes installed inside the pilot plant allow real-time monitoring of the wall-scale formation and possible mitigation techniques. Porter said the 2-inch units will help determine improvements to minimize the wall-scale formation.
Hazen also fabricated a much larger model of the DMR for testing. An 18-inch-diameter pilot plant will be used to demonstrate measures to control the particle size to ensure proper media fluidization inside the DMR.
At the Idaho Site, EM expects to conduct a simulant run in IWTU to test a redesigned auger-grinder, which is crucial equipment to size and transfer treated waste material from the DMR to other IWTU treatment processes. During this run, EM will monitor and control the DMR’s operating parameters, including the simulant feed rate, introduction of gases to ensure proper fluidization of the bed material and the reaction vessel’s temperature.
As early as this summer, IWTU engineers expect to apply the prior simulant run information and Hazen test results as they begin another simulant run to refine operating parameters to support IWTU’s long-term operation. The Hazen tests and confirmatory IWTU runs use non-radioactive, simulated waste. EM will prepare IWTU to treat waste following testing and resolution of the facility’s issues.
A Savannah River National Laboratory employee looks through a three-foot-thick lead glass window as she uses a manipulator arm inside a shielded cell.
AIKEN, S.C. – The largest collection of hot cells in the DOE complex is old enough to retire, but an ongoing renovation project will make sure its career lasts well into the 21st century.
Built in three phases beginning in the 1950s, Savannah River National Laboratory’s (SRNL) Shielded Cells Facility is undergoing renovations, most recently the replacement of shielded cell windows in Cell Block B. The three-foot-thick windows, made of layers of lead glass, were replaced in cells 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16. Workers are also upgrading electrical and piping services and operator consoles, all scheduled for 2017 completion.
“This facility has been a crucial asset to high-hazard radioactive work,” said Babb Attaway, manager of shielded cells operations. “These improvements will allow it to continue that way for many years to come.”
Attaway said the upgrades, which are on schedule, are essential for the lab to continue offering these services.
The facility allows lab staff to work safely with highly radioactive materials. Cell Block A has six cells and Cell Block B has 10 cells.
High-density, reinforced concrete walls, lead glass windows — both three feet thick — and three stages of air filtration protect workers and the environment. Skilled operators, standing safely outside the cells, use manipulator arms to perform work inside the cells.
Supporting EM’s missions, the facility is key to the closure of the Savannah River Site's radioactive waste storage tanks, including the Defense Waste Processing, Sludge, Salt Waste Processing and Saltstone facilities.
It also includes full-scale, nonradioactive replicas of the hot cells. These mockups, with the same footprint and operational capability of the radioactive cells, are used for staging equipment and developing procedures for active cell operations for testing research equipment and training laboratory technicians who operate the manipulators.
The improvements are intended to resolve operational and safety challenges of a deep groundwater pump system that collects measurements and samples from hundreds of feet below surface. The system’s heavy tubing bundle had slipped downward through the original support hardware, introducing measurement errors. The weight of the system flattened the bundle’s components, and could potentially cause the lift cable to fail. That cable is part of the winch system used for handling suspended loads.
To secure the tube bundle, EM-LA switched to a new grip used in the electrical industry to support and pull heavy electrical cable. The grip tightens around the tube bundle as the weight of the pump system elongates the grip; the heavier the weight, the stronger the grip.
EM’s Los Alamos Field Office switched to a new grip to secure the pump system within the piezometers used to monitor and collect water quality data from depths greater than 900 feet below ground within the hexavalent chromium plume area.
“The improvements made to the groundwater sampling pump system reduce the number of steps required for pump system installation and removal, reduce system maintenance costs, and most importantly, make handling the systems much safer,” LANS Field Services Group Site Operations Manager Steve Maze said. “The innovative improvements were made possible by the invaluable feedback and suggestions provided by my field team regarding pump system handling and safety.”
The team also added a large-diameter cable sheave to the winch system to prevent damage to the tubing bundle. Similar to a pulley, the sheave is a free-spinning, grooved wheel used in the electrical industry to pull heavy electrical cable. In contrast to the small-diameter winch rollers, the larger diameter sheave distributes the weight of the pump system over a larger area of the tube bundle and eliminates tube crushing.
The pump system is part of an interim measure approved by the New Mexico Environment Department to ensure a hexavalent chromium plume stays within the laboratory’s boundary while a final remediation approach is evaluated.
Under the interim measure, wells extract the contaminated groundwater, the groundwater is treated using a method called ion exchange, and injection wells add the treated groundwater to the aquifer. Along with extraction, the migration of the plume is controlled by injecting the treated groundwater at the plume’s edge.
The improved pump system supports taking samples from deep piezometers, which monitor and collect water quality data from the plume area.
The project team designed and deployed the improved pump system in the deepest piezometer, and it performed successfully. The team is scheduled to deploy the system in the five remaining piezometers, which are 915 to 1,130 feet below ground surface.
“This new pump system enables us to safely and efficiently collect the data we need to implement the interim measure to control the migration of the chromium plume,” EM-LA Manager Doug Hintze said.
The Florida International University/Savannah River Ecology Laboratory research team.
AIKEN, S.C. – Researchers from Florida International University (FIU) are set to return to the Savannah River Site (SRS) to help EM determine the disposition of a local watershed’s contaminated areas.
“We have certainly enjoyed collaborating with the researchers and student interns from FIU, and look forward to their next SRS visit this summer,” said Dr. John Seaman, associate director of research at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), who helped coordinate the effort. “But more importantly, their efforts provide a great benefit as the SRS decides the ultimate disposition of impacted areas within the Tims Branch watershed.”
The team from FIU’s Applied Research Center (ARC) collected samples and data last year for ARC’s Tims Branch surface water and sediment transport modeling research. Dr. Mehrnoosh Mahmoudi led the excursion and was joined by FIU graduate students Natalia Duque, Mohammed Albassam and Juan Morales. They are DOE Fellows in the DOE-FIU Science and Technology Workforce Development Program, which allows students to conduct hands-on applied research to support EM’s cleanup. The DOE Fellows Program links researching solutions for EM’s cleanup challenges to students’ academic goals, such as completing theses and dissertations.
“In this field study, I was able to measure water quality parameters in the A-011 and A-014 outfall tributaries as well as the main Tims Branch stream, which will be an important component for my dissertation. The data was grouped and formatted in a manner to conduct a toxicological watershed assessment of accumulated metals of concern,” Morales said. “Participating in this field study allowed me to learn several field measurement techniques and, it allowed us to collect data required for calibration of the hydrological model which I will eventually be using for my dissertation research.”
An FIU researcher and students record field measurements.
Under a five-year cooperative agreement between EM and FIU, ARC, SREL and Savannah River National Laboratory are developing a comprehensive integrated hydrology and transport model for a tool to assess the fate and transport of contaminants such as mercury and uranium in the Tims Branch watershed during extreme storm events. The site is recovering from Cold War operations.
Their work will provide valuable insight to the monitoring phase following the implementation of the applied remediation technology to remove the mercury contamination in Tims Branch.
“Flow measurement was one of the primary tasks of the SRS field study,” Albassam said. “More than 20 measurements were taken in different locations to help us understand the behavior and movement of chemicals and contaminants in the surface water and provide information to calibrate the hydrological model we are developing, which will be one of the main components of my thesis research for a master’s degree in water resources.”
The research team follows decontamination protocol.
ARC intends to apply the model to examine the response of Tims Branch to historical discharges and environmental management remediation actions.
The small-stream ecosystem received discharges containing uranium, mercury, nickel, aluminum and other metals and radionuclides from onsite process and laboratory facilities.
Innovative treatment systems were implemented to limit contaminant fluxes to Tims Branch. A wetland treatment system in 2000 and a mercury removal system in 2007 used tin chloride and air stripping. These eliminated all local mercury inputs to this ecosystem but the tin-based treatment resulted in inert tin oxide particles.
The EM-FIU agreement has allowed the university to develop expertise and specialized facilities through its dedicated scientific and engineering work, which aligns with EM’s mission to accelerate risk reduction and site cleanup.
ARC conducts technical research to support EM’s environmental remediation and student workforce development for high-priority areas, such as radioactive waste processing and facility deactivation and decommissioning.
The nearly 150 people in attendance filled the meeting space at Piketon High School.
PIKETON, Ohio– With nearly 150 people in attendance, EM’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant recently marked one of the largest turnouts for a public meeting since the inception of its decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project in 2011.
EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO), its contractors and affiliated organizations updated the public on the project at Piketon High School. Plant personnel also fielded questions at information stations addressing safety, environmental remediation and other topics.
EM Portsmouth Site Lead Joel Bradburne discusses cleanup operations.
“Our objective with these public meetings is to join our partners and provide up-to-date information on the D&D project so the public can be informed,” PPPO Portsmouth Site Lead Joel Bradburne said. “We have all of the pieces in place and, with input from stakeholders, we know the path forward. Now it’s just a matter of executing the project.”
Caleb Miller (right) of EM contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth talks with a visitor about asset recovery and recycling as part of cleanup operations underway at the Portsmouth Site.
Bradburne and contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth (FBP) Project Manager Dennis Carr discussed progress, including:
Advancements toward demolition-ready state for the first of three massive uranium process buildings with deactivation of the second building underway;
Timing these future demolitions with the ongoing construction of the On-Site Waste Disposal Facility that will hold some demolition debris and whose site preparation, infrastructure construction and utilities installation are largely completed; and
Near completion of waste shipping and right-sizing of key infrastructure while recovering some costs and supporting local economic development through recycling.
Bradburne and Carr also discussed efforts to establish land transfers through SODI. EM is accepting comments on the draft environmental assessment for conveyance of real property at the site. To review the assessment, click here.
Carlton Cave, a SSAB co-vice chair, said the exchange with the public was beneficial.
“The speakers were just fantastic and very knowledgeable about their jobs,” Cave said. “I think we’re making good headway in getting good information out to the general public.”
RICHLAND, Wash. – Hanford Site tank farm employees will now benefit from a new physiological measurement program that improves safety.
Between 2014 and 2016, EM’s tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) conducted an extensive assessment to identify innovative methods to improve the physiological measurement of tank farm workers at Hanford, where summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The workers use extensive personal protective equipment (PPE), which often includes multiple layers of impermeable clothing tape-sealed to two pairs of gloves, booties, hoods and necessary respiratory protection. This PPE protects the worker from chemical and radiological hazards, but creates other physical threats, including the increased potential of heat stress.
Historically, the site conducted assessments for heat stress using periodic heart pulse rate measurement, and relied on self-reporting of systems. When workers had symptoms, they exited the work location, removed multiple layers of PPE and had their heart pulse rate measured.
Driven by the need to remotely assess heat stress, WRPS developed a physiological measurement program around the novel use of a remote heart pulse rate monitor. The contractor’s heat stress committee, composed of craft, operations, and management personnel, was reorganized and tasked with the challenge.
The team’s innovation centers on use of a Bluetooth, chest-mounted heart pulse rate monitor, which allows remote, real-time assessment of heat stress for multiple individuals by a trained technician using a tablet. This enables increased productivity, reduces errors from delayed assessment and ensures detection of employee heat strain.
The team conducted significant testing of the heart pulse rate monitor and remote monitoring system. WRPS also educated and sought support for the program from a unionized workforce. Ongoing, comprehensive campaigns educated and involved employees to develop associated protocols and procedures.
The innovation has removed employees from harmful heat related tasks before developing heat stress symptoms; increased productivity due to reduced work stoppages associated with heat stress events; minimized time required to remove employees for heat stress assessment; improved compliance with regulatory criteria and EM expectations; and eliminated heat-related disorders to date.
Robert “Buz” Smith (far left) and Don Dihel (far right), the EM coordinators from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, join 1st Place Heath Middle School Team 2 (front row, left to right) Ava Kelly, Jacob Harris, Mason Hancock, and Tylee Haws; (back row, left to right) Coach Brandy Roberts and Xander Norment. Eighteen middle school teams participated in the event.
PADUCAH, Ky. – Seven years ago, EM’s Paducah Site launched the West Kentucky Regional Science Bowl with a simple goal to promote science and math education, reaching as many students as possible.
With the Feb. 3 middle school science bowl behind them and the high school competition coming up on Friday, Feb. 17, Donald Dihel and Robert “Buz” Smith of EM’s Paducah Site Office are leading the planning, organizing and execution of the events.
“Don, Buz and our volunteers work hard with the students, teachers, and the schools to help make this a meaningful and memorable educational experience for our area’s students,” said Jennifer Woodard, Paducah Site Lead for EM’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office.
Approximately 40 middle and high school teams from Kentucky and southern Illinois participate in the fast-paced, quick-recall contests covering the fields of biology, chemistry, Earth and space science, physics, energy, and math.
“There is no better way to help students develop their skills than to provide an opportunity for them to compete using their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills,” said Smith. “These students are gifted, and the science bowl was created for students who excel in math and science.”
Dihel (left) and Smith review match-ups for the round-robin style tournament at the West Kentucky Regional DOE Science Bowl.
Dihel is an EM-certified hazard material manager and Smith is a strategic planner. Dihel said developing the 21st-century workforce at a time when more scientific and technical specialists are retiring is worth the effort.
“It’s also gratifying to see tomorrow’s leaders preparing themselves to solve real-world problems through rewarding careers,” he added.
The high school science bowl will be held at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering—Paducah Campus at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
The winning middle and high school teams will advance to compete at the National Science Bowl (NSB) April 27 through May 1 in Washington, D.C.
DOE’s Office of Science manages the NSB finals competition. More information is available here.