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EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 3 | Jan. 26, 2021


A Look Back at Cleanup Success at Savannah River Site in 2020


Before and after: A former waste basin near the center of the 300-square-mile Savannah River Site is shown at left prior to cleanup. Workers completed cleanup of the site, transforming it into an open field of grass, at right.

AIKEN, S.C.EM and management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) completed six major environmental cleanup projects at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in 2020.

Stuart MacVean, president and CEO of SRNS, noted that an SRS team also received DOE’s prestigious Project Management Excellence Award in July, adding to the site’s 2020 achievements.

“The presentation of this award combined with the safe and successful completion of multiple cleanup projects this year reflects the priority and importance we place on environmental remediation at SRS,” MacVean said. “In addition, all this was accomplished while overcoming the issues and obstacles presented by the pandemic.”

The DOE award was presented to SRS for consolidating more than 400,000 cubic yards of coal ash, fully capped under geosynthetic material and a thick earthen cover consisting of fill dirt and grass-covered topsoil. Workers completed the project in 2019 more than a year ahead of schedule, with a cost savings of $9 million.


Workers mixed more than a million pounds of iron filings with a food-grade, starch-like material, shown here. The material was injected into 22 wells at the Savannah River Site to create a long and continuous iron wall that acts as a giant metal filter of contaminated groundwater.

The major SRNS environmental cleanup projects completed in 2020 include:

  • Demolition of a large radiologically contaminated building formerly used to assemble mechanical systems found within nuclear reactors built during the Cold War and later used to repair and refurbish reactor heat exchangers.
  • Construction of an underground wall made of recycled iron filings that treats Cold War-era chemicals in groundwater flowing through the structure. The wall is three basketball courts in length and, on average, about four inches thick, extending 135 feet below the earth’s surface at its deepest point.
  • Conclusion of a cleanup campaign that removed more than 5,000 pounds of chemical solvents from soil, resulting in an annual cost savings of $264,000.
  • Remediation of a 12-acre coal storage yard by mixing 1,000 tons of naturally occurring limestone from South Carolina with acidic soils to neutralize the mixed materials.
  • Demolition of radioactively contaminated structures, known as “Treblers,” formerly used to measure the flow of hazardous wastewater and obtain sample data within an inactive sewer process line.
  • Remediation of a multi-acre pond-like basin from the Cold War by placing a protective cover consisting of 1,400 tons of stone and 7,000 cubic yards of dirt and capping it with grass sod to safely secure remaining contaminated soil.

“We have a talented and resourceful workforce at SRNS who prove time and again they have what it takes to get the job done safely and efficiently, often ahead of schedule and under budget,” MacVean said. “I’m looking forward to our cleanup accomplishments in 2021.”

-Contributor: DT Townsend

SRS Transfers Spent Nuclear Fuel, Opening Space for Mission Work


EM and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions have transferred spent nuclear fuel from H Canyon to the Defense Waste Processing Facility for processing two years ahead of schedule at the Savannah River Site.

AIKEN, S.C.EM workers at the Savannah River Site (SRS) recently began transferring dissolved spent nuclear fuel to a waste processing facility two years early, freeing tank space at a chemical separations facility and reducing the inventory of the fuel in a basin at the site.

The spent nuclear fuel from the Sodium Reactor Experiment has been stored at the H Canyon Chemical Separations Facility since 2012, awaiting transfer to the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF), which had been planned for 2022. The material contained high levels of thorium that could not be processed into low enriched uranium like other spent nuclear fuel processed in H Canyon. The Sodium Reactor Experiment is a former nuclear power plant in California.

“The need for H Canyon space for future missions presented an opportunity for H Canyon to work with the SRS liquid waste contractor, Savannah River Remediation, to manage a discard of the Sodium Reactor Experiment material two years early,” said Eloy Saldivar, H Canyon project manager for SRS management and operations contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS).

The only operating radioactive waste vitrification plant in the U.S., DWPF converts radioactive liquid waste stored at SRS into a solid glass form suitable for interim storage and eventual offsite geological disposal.

“We have sent 11,300 gallons of Sodium Reactor Experiment material to DWPF for processing so far,” said H Canyon Process Engineer Jaclyn Fitzpatrick. “We plan to complete the final transfer of 3,700 gallons early this year, which will allow the tanks that previously stored the material to be repurposed. This will open about 18,000 gallons of space in H Canyon to use for future missions, when combined with approximately 3,000 gallons of space that wasn’t being utilized.”

Spent nuclear fuel is received and stored safely underwater in the L Area Disassembly Basin until H Canyon is ready to process the material.

“L Basin is nearing its storage capacity, so freeing up room allows us to process more material in H Canyon. This helps accelerate the reduction of the current L Basin inventory,” Fitzpatrick said.

“SRS is home to many different facilities performing a variety of nuclear material management and environmental cleanup missions,” Saldivar said. “The integration between these facilities is an important part of how SRS is helping to make the world safer.”

-Contributor: Lindsey MonBarren

Hanford, SRS Contractor Presidents Receive National Safety Leadership Awards


John Eschenberg, president and CEO for EM Tank Operations Contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) at the Hanford Site, was named a CEO Who “Gets It” by the National Safety Council.

The presidents of two EM cleanup contractors have each won a national award for their commitment to safety.

John Eschenberg, president and CEO of Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), and Phil Breidenbach, president and project manager of Savannah River Remediation (SRR), are two of eight national leaders to receive the National Safety Council’s 2021 CEOs Who “Get It” award, given to leaders who go above and beyond to protect employees on and off the job.

“Safety depends on leaders who understand and support it from the top down, ensuring every major business decision is made with safety in mind. That is the definition of a CEO who gets it,” according to the award announcement. The honorees are recognized in the January edition of Safety+Health magazine.

“The Department of Energy has a very high standard for safety and a strong safety culture at the Hanford Site,” said Brian Vance, manager of EM's Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office. “John has embraced the importance of safety in his leadership of the tank farms team.”

Each year, the council selects CEOs from national and international organizations who have demonstrated a commitment to safety in four key areas: leadership and employee engagement, safety management solutions, risk reduction, and performance measurement. The council is a mission-based organization that works to eliminate the leading causes of preventable death and injury, focusing efforts on the workplace, roadway, and impairment.


In this video, Brian Vance, manager of EM's Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office, community and business leaders, and others congratulate John Eschenberg, president and CEO of Washington River Protection Solutions, for receiving the National Safety Council’s 2021 CEOs Who “Get It” award.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this designation,” said Eschenberg, who leads a team of more than 3,000 employees at WRPS, EM’s tank operations contractor at Hanford. “I share this honor with all the WRPS employees who each day demonstrate teamwork, innovation, and safety awareness to advance the Hanford cleanup mission.”

The Safety + Health article describes how, after experiencing accidents as a construction worker early in his career, Eschenberg learned the value of proper safety protocols firsthand from the U.S. Navy’s nuclear power program.

“It was there I developed a full understanding of the rigor and discipline necessary to ensure worker safety in high-hazard operating environments,” Eschenberg said. “That experience introduced me to the true meaning of safety in the workplace and raised my standards to a high level that I have worked to maintain throughout my career.”

Since assuming the tank operations contract in 2008, WRPS has earned numerous safety awards, including the Voluntary Protection Program Legacy of Stars status, which distinguishes companies that have demonstrated sustained excellence in worker safety and health. The contractor also was recently named one of America’s safest companies by EHS Today, a leading publication in the safety industry.


Savannah River Remediation (SRR) President and Project Manager Phil Breidenbach was one of eight honorees of the 2021 CEOs Who “Get It” award from the National Safety Council. In this photo, Breidenbach stands in front of SRR's core values and expectations poster displayed in his office.

In the high-hazard nuclear business, you don’t get to conduct your mission unless you can do it safely, according to Breidenbach, the president and project manager of EM’s liquid waste contractor at the Savannah River Site (SRS).

“The nuclear business affects the greater good; it has a much further reach than many other industries,” Breidenbach said. “If we don’t do the work correctly, we can affect many people, large areas of the state, and the entire nuclear industry. Because the consequence can be so significant, the controls to ensure we don’t actually experience those consequences need to be so robust. That is why in our business, safety is a value. It is more than a priority because priorities change. It is a value, and it always will be.”

SRR is responsible for a 24/7 operation that manages several high-hazard nuclear facilities at SRS.

“The core value of safety always comes first,” Breidenbach added.

-Contributors: Colleen Hart, Mark McKenna

West Valley Employees Improve ‘Suit-up’ for Contaminated Cell Entry


CH2M HILL BWXT West Valley Facility Disposition Supervisor Tim Wittmeyer, left, and co-worker Mike Sexton demonstrate donning and doffing personal protective equipment during a mock-up session at the West Valley Demonstration Project.

WEST VALLEY, N.Y. – A crew at EM’s West Valley Demonstration Project (WVDP) recently conducted several mock-up sessions in which employees practiced properly suiting up before entering the Main Plant Process Building to prepare it for future demolition.
They received hands-on practice for helping co-workers don and doff personal protective equipment while following new COVID-19 protocols, such as use of plastic face shields in addition to face coverings.
The sessions were conducted based on employee safety feedback, lessons learned, and continuous improvement discussions among employees and managers.
“After the planned annual shutdown between Christmas and New Year’s, it was imperative that every WVDP team member refocus their attention and awareness on safety, which includes reviewing procedures, work instruction packages, and checking their work areas for changing conditions,” said Ken Whitham, vice president of environmental, safety, health and quality for WVDP cleanup contractor CH2M HILL BWXT West Valley (CHBWV). “In addition, they must remember that COVID-19 protocols are still in place, and additional protocols have been added to further enhance safety at the site.”
Todd Olson, CHBWV facility disposition supervisor, said the mock-up suit-up sessions are a good example of what can be accomplished when issues are discussed and ideas are shared.
“Open communication allows employees and supervisors to be more engaged and understand that what they do matters in our future success,” Olson said.
EM WVDP Safety and Site Programs Team Leader Jennifer Dundas commended the team for conducting the mock-ups.
“Listening to employee feedback and implementing their suggestions is the best way to solve a problem,” Dundas said. “It fosters the sharing of ideas and allows everyone an opportunity to be part of the solution. In the end, an agreed-upon solution helps everyone complete their work safely and compliantly.”
-Contributor: Joseph Pillittere

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