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EM Update | Vol. 12, Issue 25 | Sept. 8, 2020


SRS Removes Silver-Bearing Sludge From Tank to Recover Precious Metal

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions mechanic Curtis Williford helps remove the cover of an industrial wastewater tank within a containment pit at the Savannah River Site. Employees tested for potential health hazards prior to pumping silver-bearing sludge from the tank.

AIKEN, S.C.EM and the management and operations contractor at the Savannah River Site (SRS) have successfully removed sludge containing silver from an industrial wastewater tank.

The silver-bearing sludge at SRS will be shipped to the DOE Business Center for Precious Metals Sales and Recovery to be reclaimed, with proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury. Precious metals reclamation is the recycling and recovery of elements such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium from hazardous waste.

For many years, workers at SRS developed photo film in a process that generated industrial wastewater containing silver nitrate. The wastewater passed through ion-exchange equipment to remove the silver before being discharged into the tank.

“Some of the precious metal still made it to the tank and over the years has accumulated to a significant amount,” said Ted Millings, with the environmental compliance division at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). “Fast forward to the age of digital photography. Now this tank that’s regulated through the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) no longer serves a purpose.”

Millings said appropriate safety measures were followed during removal of the sludge. After workers emptied the contents of the tank and cleaned it, a camera was lowered into the vessel to verify that no sludge remained and that the floor and walls of the tank remained intact.

“It was at this point that we filled the tank with grout, which has properties similar to concrete,” said Andrew MacMillan, project lead for SRNS area completion projects.

MacMillan noted that the sludge removal project will allow SRS to avoid the cost of managing and disposing of the sludge as hazardous waste.

“Helping to ensure the proceeds from the reclaimed precious metal goes to the U.S. Treasury is important; however, protecting our environment from this waste is invaluable,” he said.

EM and SRNS worked closely with SCDHEC officials to ensure all state environmental regulations were followed in the project.

“Although it’s the end of an era at SRS for developing photographic film, the successful completion of this project validates the continued value of teamwork and shared resources for a common cause,” said Travis Shaw, SRNS environmental compliance authority for asset management and distribution operations.

-Contributor: DT Townsend

Oak Ridge Constructing Test Facility for Sludge Processing


Last week, crews moved a massive 50,000-tank into position to support efforts at the Sludge Processing Mock Test Facility under construction at Oak Ridge.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Construction is underway on the $10 million Sludge Processing Mock Test Facility, which will play a vital role in maturing technologies needed to begin processing Oak Ridge’s 500,000-gallon inventory of transuranic sludge waste.

Transuranic waste contains elements heavier than uranium, hence the name “trans,” or “beyond” uranium. Oak Ridge’s inventory of that waste was generated and stored onsite from years of defense-related research, conducted primarily at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) has been working since 2003 to process, repackage, and ship Oak Ridge’s inventory of contact-handled and remote-handled transuranic debris waste for permanent disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico. With that processing scheduled for completion in 2022, OREM is now working to address the site’s inventory of transuranic sludge waste.

Crews have already placed footers and poured the foundation for the mock test facility. They took another major step forward last week when they transported a 50,000-gallon tank to the worksite that will be used during testing.


Site preparation for the Sludge Processing Mock Test Facility began in January 2020. Crews recently poured the concrete slab for the structure, which is slated for completion in October 2021.

OREM will test six critical technology elements to gather the data necessary to complete the final design and construction of the Sludge Processing Facility later this decade. Two of those technologies will be tested at the mock test facility, which is now under construction.

Engineers at the mock test facility will focus on testing pump technologies and instrumentation measurement technologies. Advanced pump technologies are needed to pull the sludge wastes out of their storage tanks for processing. The instrumentation measurement technologies will inform operators what material is moving through the pumps, including its contents and density, to assist with processing needs.

“There is a lot of preparation and groundwork required before we can begin addressing our inventory of transuranic sludge waste, but we are moving closer to that goal with the construction of this crucial testing facility,” ORNL Portfolio Federal Project Manager Nathan Felosi said.

Site preparation began for the Sludge Processing Mock Test Facility in January 2020, and construction is slated for completion in October 2021. OREM anticipates approximately two years of testing to gather the data needed to determine the best designs and approaches for the Sludge Processing Facility’s final design.

-Contributor: Ben Williams

3D Printing Improves Radiological Safety at SRS at Low Cost


Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) Senior Health Physicist Michael Ratliff, left, examines parts created by SRNS Principal Scientist Andy Warren using a 3D printer.

AIKEN, S.C. – An employee at the Savannah River Site (SRS) recently discovered how 3D printers can create unique objects at a low cost to improve safety and operations.

EM and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), the site’s management and operations contractor, analyze about 80,000 industrial air monitoring filters each year for radiological contamination within SRS nuclear facilities.

Known as a high-tech “radiological investigator,” Senior Health Physicist Michael Ratliff operates a laboratory at SRS where those analyses are completed.

Air filter analysis determines the source of radioactive particulates and helps measure possible airborne particulates within an operating facility. The process provides valuable data that can be used to monitor the health and safety of SRS employees working within nuclear facilities.

Ratliff said the circular filters sent to the laboratory for analysis are two inches in diameter on cards that are about three inches wide. Each card is packaged and delivered to the laboratory for analysis.

Recently, Ratliff sought the expertise of Andy Warren, who works at a laboratory within the SRNS environmental bioassay organization. That laboratory is used to analyze samples submitted by workers to assess possible occupational exposure to radiological substances and to ensure implemented hazard controls prevent occupational exposure.

Warren asked Ratliff how the cards are used in the high-volume equipment that processes the estimated 80,000 samples a year.

“I brought him one of the little fixtures used in the automated units,” Ratliff said. “To my surprise, the next day he provided a 3D printed part that fit perfectly on my counting instrument and holds the sample card exactly centered in a reproducible geometry.”

Ratliff noted that Warren’s solution improves the quality of data and reduces the time needed to prepare the analyses, all while enhancing radiological safety at SRS.

“When Michael contacted me and said, ‘I could use your help,’ we were already set up to create unique, one-off products using a computer-aided design program. It took about two hours to draft the part and send the design to the printer. The next morning, I came in, took it off the printer, and gave to Michael,” Warren said.

What use to take months at a design and fabrication shop can now be printed overnight at the site.

According to Warren, costs associated with 3D printing are low — approximately $7,000 for a printer and $2,000 for computer-aided design software.

“The fixtures made for Ratliff cost about $5 dollars each,” Warren said.

-Contributor: DT Townsend

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