Flammable Chemical Shuts Nuke Waste Site

Monday, August 10, 2015 @ 11:08 AM gHale

Operations at a Savannah River Site facility that mixes nuclear waste with molten glass are on hold until at least October after officials discovered a chemical used in the process was flammable in certain high temperature areas.

The Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF), which pours the mixed material into steel canisters with long-term storage, routinely uses a chemical that minimizes foam while preparing the material for the vessels, said Dean Campbell, spokesman for Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor.

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As the anti-foam chemical degrades, byproducts can be flammable in some areas of the facility that reach high temperatures, Campbell said. The finding called for a review of safety protocol.

“Engineers are working with scientists at Savannah River National Laboratory to determine what conditions can cause anti-foam degradation, how this might impact safe operation of the processing vessels upstream of the melter and to define a path forward,” he said.

The anti-foam chemical issue ended up discovered while DWPF was in an outage that began in April. A date to resume operations has not been determined, Campbell said.

“Impacts to the production schedule will be determined when the facility is operational, but no long-term impacts are anticipated,” he said.

DWPF was on tap to pour 156 canisters in fiscal year 2015, which ends Sept. 30. So far they poured 90 canisters.

The facility has produced 3,967 canisters since beginning operations to process highly radioactive waste in dozens of Cold War-era underground storage tanks. Emptying the tank waste should produce 8,582 total canisters, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Campbell said the DWPF outage does not affect tank closure operations.