Savannah River Mission Completion has partnered with Claflin University to challenge students to improve the method for removing and replacing radioactively contaminated equipment inside the Savannah River Site’s salt waste processing facility.
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort at SRS to support historically Black colleges and universities and also aims at strengthening the school’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum, also known as STEM, according to a news release.
SRMC is one of the main employers at the site, tasked with the safe reduction of curies, or radioactive material, in aging waste tanks at the site.
Students will be working on ways to improve the method for removing and replacing the radioactively contaminated device called the strip effluent coalescer within the processing facility’s solvent recovery system. The coalescer combines small droplets of solvent to form larger droplets, enabling their separation from the high-activity salt waste, according to the release.
Any proposed improvements would both use fewer resources and reduce the potential for radiation exposure to workers during removal, transport and replacement of the equipment, the release said. The current process involves the hands-on use of a specially designed transport cart and crane.
“One of our goals is for the students to consider all possibilities for making our processes safer and better inside the salt waste processing facility,” said Dave Olson, SRMC’s president and program manager. “We want to motivate students to solve real-world technical issues.”
Karina Liles, Claflin’s interim chair of mathematics and computer science, said the students will work hard to develop a safe and practical alternative.
“Our students are up to the task, ready to tackle both technical and operational challenges,” Liles said. “Throughout their STEM training, our focus has been hands-on, problem-based learning. This real-world challenge presents them with a wonderful opportunity for growth, and we are grateful for the opportunity provided by this partnership.”
The partnership is part of the Capstone program, SRMC’s education outreach that introduces various SRS operations to students, helping them grow real-world skillsets while also developing potential employees to support SRS work. The STEM project began with the fall semester and continues until May 2023.