Contractor employees at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site recently completed their 100th plutonium downblend in fiscal year 2023 as part of the ongoing activities to remove plutonium from South Carolina.
The DOE said in a news release operations were completed safely and ahead of schedule.
Downblending is the method used at SRS for the disposition of surplus plutonium, according to the DOE. Also referred to as “dilute and dispose,” downblending involves mixing the plutonium materials with an inert material called adulterant, producing a mixture that can eventually be safely disposed at a geologic repository.
“Reaching the 100th plutonium downblend well ahead of schedule is a huge accomplishment and a testament to our team’s commitment to remove plutonium from the state,” K Area Deputy Facility Manager Maxwell Smith of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, said in the news release. Smith also is the managing and operating contractor at SRS.
“Much of our work in the past few years has been to introduce efficiencies and speed up our processing rates in the KIS glovebox and it’s gratifying to see the results of those efforts,” he said in the release.
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Downblending began in the site’s K Area in 2016. In 2019, K Area paused downblending activities to optimize equipment, training and personnel in order to expedite the process, according to DOE. The facility also moved from two- to four-shift operations and more than doubled the amount of trained operators in the facility, so downblending could be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“SRNS has safely accomplished a great amount of work in an effort to increase downblending operations,” DOE Nuclear Materials Program Manager Bert Crapse said in the release. “Because of their commitment, K Area went from completing nine downblends in fiscal year 2017 to completing over 100 in fiscal year 2023.”
Because K Area reached its downblending goal for the fiscal year ahead of schedule, employees can begin processing material originally slated for fiscal year 2024, Smith said. “Downblending supports DOE’s nonproliferation mission, and the K Area team is proud to be part of that mission,” he said.
Workers are installing three new gloveboxes, support systems, and constructing a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA)/electrical building and ventilation stacks in K Area as part of a project to help further increase downblending rates.
The glovebox — a stainless-steel containment enclosure that is approximately 15 feet long and three feet wide — contains safety glass panels and fitted gloveports to allow radioactive materials handling, and isolates workers from associated hazards, the news release stated.i