Cleaning up radioactive and hazardous underground waste from nuclear materials production
Removing and cleaning up nuclear and hazardous waste remaining from the Cold War era at Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina is a national priority. This remediation process is essential to accomplishing the U.S. government’s goal to protect the environment and communities around this decades-old site and we are honored to help deliver this mission at this historic location.
Five decades producing nuclear materials, including plutonium and tritium for use in U.S. weapons created nearly 35 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 the Savannah River Site, which began with designing and building the Defense Waste Processing Plant, the world's largest high-level waste vitrification plant. For more information about waste vitrification, please visit our Waste Treatment Plant page.
The Saltstone Disposal Units (SDU) are large storage tanks for cement-like grout mixed with low-activity waste produced from solidification of decontaminated non-hazardous salt waste at SRS. These tanks are based on a design used commercially for storage of water and other liquids.
The 32.8-million gallon SDU 6, completed in May 2017, is more than 10 times larger than the other six SDUs. Using lessons learned and efficiencies gained from construction of SDU 6, SDU 7, 8, and 9 are currently being built.
Spotlight on safety
In 2020, the Savannah River Remediation construction team surpassed 32 million job hours and more than 22 years without a lost-time incident—unprecedented for the U.S. construction industry.
SRS has a long track record of being one of the safest sites in the DOE complex and one of the safest major industrial sites in the world. 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.
Accomplishments to date
- 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
- Since the Defense Waste Processing facility began operations in March 1996, more than 16 million pounds of radioactive glass have been produced.
- SRS is home to the first two liquid radioactive waste tank operational closures in the nation. These closures were followed with two in 2012, two in 2013, one in 2015 and one in 2016.
- Designed and constructed the Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit which was the pilot plany for the Salt Waste Processing Facility. MCU operated for 11 years and helped process 7.4 million gallons of waste before completing its mission.
- Completed major facility modifications on schedule during a 6-month outage to integrate SWPF into the liquid waste program.