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Savannah River Site Reaches New Milestone in Japanese Reactor Mission

Published: January 19, 2024

japanese reactor mission.jpeg
Crews installed an electrolytic dissolver in the H Canyon Chemical Separations Facility at Savannah River Site in January 2021 to dissolve nuclear material and support DOE’s nonproliferation mission. Before installing the dissolver there, employees conducted test runs in a mock-up facility.

Dissolving ‘dummy cans’ brings site a step closer to nonproliferation

AIKEN, S.C. – EM’s H Canyon Chemical Separations Facility at Savannah River Site (SRS) has arrived at a new milestone supporting disposal of nuclear material from a Japanese research reactor.

The achievement follows years of preparation by multiple site contractors that dissolved “dummy cans,” which are non-radioactive stainless steel containers similar to those that hold actual plutonium from Japan’s Fast Critical Assembly (FCA).

“This milestone is pushing H Canyon one step closer to dissolving nuclear material in support of the disposition of FCA fuel and the Department’s nonproliferation mission,” said Kevin Moeller, deputy facility manager for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), the site’s management and operations contractor. “The work we accomplish is making the world safer and we are excited to see advancements in this mission.”

Since 2019, H Canyon employees have conducted extensive planning for the FCA mission after the decision was made to send the FCA fuel to H Canyon to be dissolved and discarded as waste at SRS.

“The FCA fuel is different than the other material we have most recently been dissolving in H Canyon because it is coated in stainless steel cladding, rather than aluminum,” Moeller said. “The current dissolvers in the canyon are chemical dissolvers that use nitric acid to process the fuel; however, nitric acid alone doesn’t work on stainless steel. H Canyon had to replace a no-longer-in-service dissolver and install an electrolytic dissolver in its place.”

This is not the first time H Canyon has performed electrolytic dissolution. From 1969 to 1980, the facility used this method for fuel clad in stainless steel and zirconium. The fuel is lowered into a nitric acid solution, and electricity is used in the chemical dissolution process. This produces a liquid that is sent through the site’s liquid waste facilities, where it is made into glass through a process called vitrification. It is then safely stored onsite until a federal repository is identified.

“Our team is incredibly proud of this achievement that proves the electrolytic dissolver operates smoothly with only minor hiccups detected,” Technical Support Engineer and Dissolving Subject Matter Expert Nina Vinci said. “We plan to continue all startup related tasks and implement all new requirements to start dissolving the FCA fuel by February 2024.”

Moeller believes the extensive preparations ensured the success of the dummy can dissolution process and helped advance the FCA mission.

“This new milestone could not have been reached without the collaborative effort from organizations across SRS,” said Moeller. “With any new mission, you are bound to run into challenges along the way, but this team determined resolutions quickly and efficiently to remain on time and deliver top results.”

Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency sent the FCA fuel to SRS in 2016, fulfilling a pledge by Japan and the United States to remove all separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium from the FCA reactor in Japan. The fuel is currently stored onsite and will be transferred to the canyon for processing upon the completion of all preparation tasks. After the FCA campaign, the electrolytic dissolver can be used for dissolution for other non-aluminum based spent fuels, helping advance DOE’s nonproliferation mission.

-Contributor: Mackenzie McNabb
-Source: EM Newsletter

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