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SRS Employees Further Safety, Create Efficiencies in Plutonium Downblending

Published: July 29, 2019

A new, sturdier mock-up of a glovebox was built at K Area at the Savannah River Site for employee training on updated procedures related to plutonium downblending.

AIKEN, S.C.  EM, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the management and operations contractor at the Savannah River Site are partnering to reduce radiological exposure, improve efficiency, and align with long-term DOE plutonium downblending goals at the site’s K Area Complex.

“K Area is ramping up its capabilities in order to meet the needs of DOE,” Savannah River Nuclear Solutions Facility Manager Steve Wilkerson said. “We are moving from one-shift to two-shift operations, with the plan of being at four shifts by 2021.”

Plutonium downblending is the process of mixing plutonium oxide with an inert material. The material will then be shipped to an out-of-state repository for disposition as waste. All plutonium downblending takes place inside a K Area stainless-steel glovebox with safety glass panels and fitted glove-port openings. The glovebox shields workers from hazards while allowing for contaminated materials handling.

Employee improvements to the glovebox include:

  • A new wing cabinet being installed on the side of the glovebox, which allows for easier introduction of material to the glovebox, compared to the current process of bagging the material and bringing it inside the glovebox through a smaller port.
  • Specially designed blend can carts to roll heavy canisters through the glovebox.
  • A new 6-inch bagport to reduce the amount of transuranic waste generated. The bagport is where workers place material from the glovebox into bags and seal it for storage and removal.
  • Acquiring new tools to allow for tight bag closure.
  • Relocating tools inside the glovebox to allow materials to pass through the glovebox once to complete downblending, instead of multiple times.

Employees completed training in the updated procedures in a newly built mock-up of the glovebox, which is housed in a non-contaminated environment. The mock-up is made of aluminum, making it sturdier than the previous wooden one.

“We are on track to have process optimization complete by spring of 2020,” DOE Nuclear Materials Manager Maxcine Maxted said. “These improvements required a lot of planning and work to complete, but will result in a safer, more efficient process.”

NNSA is in the design phase of its surplus plutonium disposition project, which will add three additional gloveboxes to the K Area, increasing plutonium downblending capacity and expediting the removal of plutonium from South Carolina.

-Contributor: Lindsey MonBarren

-Credit: EM Update Newsletter

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