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SRS updates: Preserving heritage, restoring pine trees, improving efficiency and more

Walt Joseph of the SRS Heritage Foundation (left) and Jeff Allison, NNSA – Savannah River Field...
Walt Joseph of the SRS Heritage Foundation (left) and Jeff Allison, NNSA – Savannah River Field Office acting manager, commemorate the $300,000 grant from NNSA to fund the SRS Museum’s upcoming exhibit “Tritium: The Past and Future Mission.”(WRDW)
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 1:41 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) – A grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration will help the Savannah River Site Museum illustrate the crucial role the site has played since the 1950s in the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

NNSA is providing $300,000 for a new permanent exhibit at the SRS Museum titled “Tritium: The Past and Future Mission” that illustrates how the nation’s need for tritium – the radioactive isotope of hydrogen used in modern nuclear weapons – formed the genesis of SRS. The exhibit also will look at how the site’s flexible engineering and design allowed it to produce tritium, as well as plutonium and other nuclear materials, during the Cold War.

With a workforce of 11,000 and an area spanning 310 square miles in Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties, SRS is now a huge local employer.

The exhibit will trace the site’s legacy as the nation’s only provider of tritium for the nuclear deterrent and how SRS continues to fulfill that role.

“The history of SRS is a significant part of the history of NNSA,” said Jeffrey Allison, Savannah River Field Office acting manager. “Tritium, which SRS continues to supply today, along with the other nuclear materials produced during the Cold War, are essential to NNSA’s mission to ensure the United States maintains a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile.”

The museum’s exhibit will feature touch screens, images and artifacts to tell this story. In addition, the NNSA grant will help the museum create companion lesson plan modules for schools.

The SRS Museum was founded by the SRS Heritage Foundation and became an extension of the Aiken County Historical Museum in 2015 when the foundation partnered with Aiken County to obtain the former Dibble Library on Laurens Street in Aiken.

Pine cones collected to help restore trees at SRS

Collected pine cones from the Savannah River Site are prepared for transport.
Collected pine cones from the Savannah River Site are prepared for transport.(WRDW)

U.S. Forest Service employees held their annual longleaf pine cone collection event on Savannah River Site last week, gathering about 700 bushels of pine cones.

These cones will be sent to a facility where the seeds are extracted, planted, and eventually grow into longleaf pine seedlings at a nursery.

These same seedlings will eventually be used on Savannah River Site and by partnering agencies to help to restore the lands once dominated by the longleaf pine forest.

“Collecting cones from known longleaf pine trees that are phenotypically superior ensures great genetic stock. When we replant, we want to know the seedlings will grow well in this area,” said Silviculture Forester Jennie Haskell. “We have had tremendous success planting quality seedlings from locally collected cones as opposed to reforesting with seedlings collected from other zones.”

Restoring the longleaf pine community, a process that takes years, is an important objective for the U.S. Forest Service across the SRS and the Southeast.

Tritium facility increases efficiency

Behind the tritium extraction facility, a 100-foot stack is used to discharge process waste gas.
Behind the tritium extraction facility, a 100-foot stack is used to discharge process waste gas.(WRDW)

A five-year-long project at the Savannah River Site’s tritium extraction facility has enabled the site to more efficiently handle waste gases resulting from work supporting the Nation’s nuclear deterrent.

At the facility, tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and a key element in nuclear weapons, is extracted from rods irradiated in a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor in preparation for loading into reservoirs for shipment to the U.S. Department of Defense.

This process creates waste gases containing a mixture of hydrogen isotopes and other isotopes, a combination that facility previously sent to a separate tritium facility for processing. With the new diffuser system design, the facility now separates the hydrogen isotopes from the other types, allowing the non-hydrogen gases to be discharged with the building’s heating, ventilation, and air condition exhaust through a stack.

“This project was the result of careful planning, perseverance, and diligent work by many different work groups over the last five years,” said Joey Huckabee, facility manager.

More news from SRS ...

  • Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, management and operations contractor contractor at the Savannah River Site, recently earned two coveted safety awards. They were awarded during the annual Department of Energy Voluntary Protection Program Participants' Association meeting, which was held virtually. SRNS received its 11th DOE-VPP Star of Excellence since becoming management and operations contractor in 2008. This award is presented to sites with a total recordable case rate of injuries 75 percent lower than the industry average. Additionally, SRNS Health and Safety Manager George Wisner received the DOE Contractor Champion Award, given for outstanding commitment to advancing the message and spirit of DOE-VPP.
  • The Savannah River Site’s Taylor Gomillion and Jacob Schaufler completed a fellowship program that accelerates the learning process and transfers decades of knowledge and experience in all phases of the nuclear weapon lifecycle from experienced weaponeers to the new generation of stockpile stewards. The two graduated from the Sandia National Laboratory Weapon Intern Program, with Gomillion receiving the Distinguished Graduate Award.
  • Savannah River Remediation, the liquid waste contractor at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, has made a $5,000 contribution to the SRS Retiree Association. The donation will provide support for the SRSRA Resource Center, which is operated by retiree volunteers. The center provides retirees a place to find help navigating benefits they need, such as health insurance. The SRSRA provides this service to the retirees free of charge.
  • The Savannah River Site this week saw an increase of 18 COVID-19 cases among its workforce. As of Friday morning, SRS had confirmed a total of 609 cases of COVID-19 among its workforce. Spokeswoman Amy Boyette said 568 of those employees have recovered and been cleared to return to work. A week early on Oct. 16, SRS reported 591 cases among the workforce.

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