Updated safety documents for a ventilation tunnel at the Savannah River Site’s H Canyon facility are expected to be approved this summer and implemented in the fall, according to the Department of Energy.
The documents should reflect a different approach to how the 310-square-mile site will handle incidents at the facility during an earthquake or other emergency. Specifically, they should detail ways to prevent impacts from seismic events to the tunnel, rather than the current standard of mitigating the impacts once an incident occurs.
Currently, the tunnel is connected to sand filters that remove more than 99 percent of airborne contaminants. As of now, the filters are required to function during an earthquake to prevent material from spreading. But under the updated safety standards, workers would take more proactive measures, such as increased attention to piping to prevent leaks and ensuring tanks at H Canyon aren’t leaking material. “The function of the H Canyon exhaust air tunnel would not change. It would still direct H Canyon air to the sand filters, it would just not be relied upon to do this during an earthquake,” said SRS spokesperson Monte Volk.
There are no cost projections or infrastructure upgrades currently planned for the tunnel.
The H Canyon air tunnel is a large, 20-inch thick concrete ventilation duct connecting the facility to its air ventilation system. Concerns on the tunnel’s viability were first raised in a June 2017 report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB). The board cited degradation of the tunnel wall and questioned its ability to withstand an earthquake.
In November 2017, the Energy Department approved a justification for continued operations (JCO), Volk said. That has allowed work to continue at H Canyon while regulators update the safety standards. The approval has allowed H Canyon, the site’s nuclear processing facility, to continue treating materials such as highly enriched uranium. Once the measures are approved, they will be implemented later this year, Volk said.