By Phil Breidenbach
All contracts come to an end – even the great ones.
On paper, Savannah River Remediation’s mission is simple: Convert the highly hazardous, radioactive liquid waste stored in underground tanks at the Savannah River Site (SRS) into glass in stainless steel canisters or grout in concrete disposal units. These treatment technologies create final waste forms that can be permanently disposed of in way that’s safe for the environment. Using complex chemical processes, at unique facilities operated by experts, we’re attacking the waste and reducing the risk to workers, the surrounding communities, and the environment.
On July 1, 2009, SRR, with its parent companies, Amentum, Bechtel, Jacobs, and BWXT, became the first contractor solely focused on the Liquid Waste mission at SRS for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). After 12.5 exceptional years, this contract is ending, and a new contractor will continue this important work. As we finish our contract, I want to reminisce on some of SRR’s successes with you.
SRR has advanced DOE to nearly halfway through its mission of safely immobilizing the radioactive liquid waste at SRS. This waste is the byproduct from Cold War-era nuclear weapons production. It has been SRR’s job to convert the liquid waste into solid forms that are safe for the environment.
During our time at SRS, we have achieved safety milestones, operational successes, and production records. The list is long, so I will just hit some of the highlights. In the last 12.5 years, SRR has:
- Poured 1,500 canisters of glassified high-level waste, equaling 5.7 million pounds, at the Defense Waste Processing Facility;
- Treated 14.7 million gallons of low-level waste at the Saltstone Production Facility for permanent disposal;
- Decontaminated more than 7.4 million gallons of salt waste, which includes 7.1 million gallons through the former salt processing facilities, called the Actinide Removal Process and Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit, and 344,000 gallons through the Tank Closure Cesium Removal pilot project;
- Treated 90 million gallons of wastewater through the Effluent Treatment Facility;
- Operationally closed 6 underground radioactive waste tanks and made significant waste retrieval progress on dozens more.
By closing 6 one-million-gallon tanks during its contract, SRR has marked significant progress in DOE’s waste cleanup mission. In addition, 14 tanks are currently in various stages of the closure process, setting up the future contract for success.
These past 12.5 years have been a time of dramatic progress for the Liquid Waste mission. The Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF), constructed and currently operated by Parsons Corp., was brought online. SWPF is the last piece needed to complete the mission. Working closely with Parsons, SRR was responsible for integrating SWPF into the Liquid Waste system so that it would work in concert with the other Liquid Waste facilities. In its first year of operation, over two million gallons of salt waste were treated – almost double the previous annual record production rate.
But what I am most proud of is how we accomplished this work. Our work is complex and intolerant of mistakes. How you do the work matters every bit as much as how much work gets accomplished. How SRR employees conduct work is in accordance with our values of safety, integrity, ownership, teamwork, and continuous improvement. When the path seems unclear, our values shine a light in the direction we go.
The best evidence of this is seen in SRR’s outstanding safety performance. As we finish the contract, SRR employees have collectively worked over 9.8 million hours without an injury that has caused a missed workday. Even more impressive: Our construction workforce has worked the entire SRR contract without an injury that has caused a missed workday. To put our construction safety performance in perspective, if we were an average construction company in our industry, we would have had 47 injuries over the last 12 years – we’ve had 0! That’s 47 people who would have been hurt but instead went home safe because they work for SRR. That’s 47 of our co-workers and friends, and that’s why we care so much about safety.
SRR delivered incredible progress and results of national significance, but the mission is not complete. Amentum is looking forward to partnering with BWXT and Fluor on the Savannah River Mission Completion contract in the next era of the SRS Liquid Waste mission.
As we complete our work under this contract, know that we recognize that our achievements couldn’t have been done without the tremendous support of this community. It has been a pleasure working with community organizations, such as the United Way. In total, SRR and its employees have donated more than $5 million to local United Way agencies. We’ve partnered with local schools, colleges, and universities to provide support and help them prime the next generation of our skilled workforce.
We know that through our work we are leaving the site better than when we arrived. We hope by working with local partners, we have done the same for our community. Thank you for standing with us in support of our work. It’s been our pleasure to serve.
Phil Breidenbach is the President and Project Manager for Savannah River Remediation, the Liquid Waste contractor at the Savannah River Site.