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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

Salvaging reusable cleanup-site materials "not just a task to safely complete": Conner

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The recent demolition of an old coal-handling system at a former nuclear-weapons manufacturing site in South Carolina will benefit both the environment and local businesses, the U.S. Department of Energy announced recently.

The removal of the system from the Savannah River Site (SRS), a 310-square-mile site in Aiken, South Carolina, was announced by the DOE Sept. 13. The demolition further adds to the 85% reduction of the SRS's operation footprint, the DOE reports, "a percentage that will grow as workers with EM contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) continue the decommissioning and demolition of facilities in the site’s massive D Area," according to the announcement.

“We’re steadily working towards the goal of having all of D Area’s 210 acres returned to its natural state, prepared for industrial use if needed,” Grady Friday, a subject-matter expert with SRNS Area Completion Projects (ACP), said in the announcement.

SRS, previously known as the Savannah River Plant, operated from the early 1950s to the end of the Cold War producing plutonium and tritium for nuclear-weapons manufacturing, the DOE reports. D Area produced heavy water to generate steam and electricity, and for nuclear reactors. To date, more than 60 structures in D Area have been demolished, according to the DOE.

The recently demolished coal-handling system consisted of feeders, hoppers, conveyor belts, a coal crusher and support structures that fed coal into four huge boilers. The 2,000 feet of conveyor belts were "(s)urprisingly ... still in good condition" considering how long they were outside in the elements, according to ACP project manager Steve Conner. Such belts are in high demand throughout the country, Friday stated in the announcement, "and would almost immediately be offered to a company within nearby counties supported by the SRSCRO"

The SRS transferred the conveyor belts to the nonprofit Savannah River Community Resource Organization (SRSCRO), according to the announcement.

“Whenever possible," Conner said in the report, "we do our best to separate recyclable or reusable materials for re-purposing from the numerous structures that have been decommissioned and demolished over the years.”

Businesses and organizations local to the SRS have received tools, oil, generators, railroad tracks, transformers, metal buildings and other items from the SRSCRO since 1993, according to the DOE. The demolition of the coal-transfer system alone generated approximately 84,000 cubic feel of metal for recycling, the statement reports.

“We’ve accepted the direction and responsibility to not just level and remove buildings at SRS,” Conner said in the announcement. “We want to effectively and responsibly do so for the benefit of the environment we live and work in, as well as for those residing in communities surrounding the Savannah River Site.

"It’s not just a task to safely complete," he said. "It’s the right thing to do.”

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