DOE Pulse
  • Number 338  |
  • May 30, 2011

Research collaboration brings results

A decade-long collaboration among several DOE national laboratories, DOE contractors and a university is leading to a significant reduction in the stored high-level radioactive waste requiring treatment at the Savannah River Site, and earning kudos for its participants.

The team responsible for “Development and Implementation of High-Level Salt Waste Processing Technology at SRS” was selected to receive the Council for Chemical Research’s 2011 Collaboration Research Award.  Team members include DOE’s Savannah River National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Savannah River Remediation (the liquid waste contractor at SRS), Parsons, General Atomics, IBC Advanced Technologies, and the University of South Carolina.  The initial work was funded by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences and by the DOE Office of Technology Innovation & Development in the Office of Environmental Management. 

The 10+-year research and technology deployment program began with the with inception of the basic scientific concepts involved, and culminated with the successful startup of chemical processes for removal of cesium, radioactive strontium, and selected actinides from the alkaline waste solutions stored in the SRS high-level radioactive waste tanks.  The Actinide Removal Process and the Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit – two new operating processes at the Savannah River Site – started up in 2008 as interim processes for the treatment of SRS salt solutions, and as proving grounds for the Salt Waste Processing Facility, now under construction.  With three years of operation, the combined facilities have decontaminated over 1.5 million gallons of High-Level Waste and allowed consolidation of the radioactive cesium, strontium, and plutonium into stable glass canisters.

At SRS, decades of nuclear material production for the nation’s defense resulted in the generation of millions of gallons of high-level radioactive liquid waste, currently stored in large underground steel tanks.  Since 1996, the Site has been converting much of that inventory of waste to a stable glass form, suitable for long-term storage and permanent disposal.  Despite enhancements to that process, existing facilities were unable to process one major type of waste due to the large volumes involved: large volumes of salt solutions containing small amounts of radionuclides.  The team’s work resulted in a process that decontaminates these salt solutions, sending the small quantities of radionuclides for conversion into glass with the remaining highly radioactive waste.  This leaves the large quantities of decontaminated salt solution clean enough to be handled using much less expensive low-level waste disposal methods.

[Angeline French, 803.725.2854,]