Cleaning up radioactive and hazardous underground waste from nuclear materials production
Five decades of nuclear materials, including plutonium and tritium, produced for use in U.S. weapons created nearly 37 million gallons (140 million liters) of liquid radioactive waste stored in underground steel tanks along Georgia’s Savannah River.
Bechtel is part of Savannah River Remediation LLC, which operates the Savannah River Site liquid waste complex and remediates radioactive and hazardous underground waste tanks. In addition to operations, Savannah River Remediation handles design, construction, and maintenance.
The liquid waste contract builds on Bechtel's prior experience at Savannah River Site, which began with designing and building the Defense Waste Processing Plant, the world's largest high-level vitrification plant. For more information about waste vitrification, please visit our Waste Treatment Plant page.
Accomplishments to date:
The Defense Waste Processing facility safely pour its 4,000th cannister of high level waste in 2016
- Closed more than 300 of the site’s 515 waste areas, and are accelerating the cleanup lifecycle by 13 years, saving the DOE nearly half a billion dollars
- Implemented more than 100 new environmental restoration technologies to treat and remediate contaminated groundwater and soil.
- Designed and constructed the $506 million Tritium Extraction Facility
- Completed the Highly Enriched Uranium Blend Down Project a year ahead of schedule and $35 million under budget
Spotlight on safety
The Savannah River Remediation construction team surpassed 26 million job hours in 2014 and more than 15 consecutive years without a lost-time incident—unprecedented for the U.S. construction industry.
This latest milestone is all the more notable given the U.S. average of one day lost for every 118,000 hours worked. In fact, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average construction project would have suffered 220 lost-time incidents during such a period of time.
The project has earned the U.S. Department of Energy Voluntary Protection Program Star of Excellence and VPP Legacy of Star honors.
A long history
Bechtel has worked on the team that managed and operated the 310-square-mile (803-square-kilometer) Savannah River Site in South Carolina for the U.S. Department of Energy.
From the late 1980s to 2008, Bechtel’s responsibilities grew from engineering procurement, construction, and project controls to include planning and development, project management, and environmental cleanup, including hazardous waste sites and contaminated groundwater.
We oversaw hundreds of design, engineering, and construction projects for nuclear and non-nuclear facilities and often had 80 or more projects under way simultaneously.
Why it matters
Designing and constructing the half-billion-dollar Tritium Extraction Facility at Savannah River Site was critical to maintaining U.S. defense capabilities.
Tritium is key to nuclear weaponry, and its half-life is only about a dozen years. So it must be replenished, and the Tritium Extraction Facility is the nation's only facility for extracting, recycling, purifying, and reloading tritium.
Tritium for purification and reuse comes from existing warheads as well as from target rods irradiated in nuclear reactors. Recycled and extracted gases are purified at Savannah River Site to produce tritium suitable for use.