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H Area Nuclear Materials Disposition

The primary mission of the H-Canyon Complex is to dissolve, purify and blend-down surplus highly enriched uranium (HEU) and aluminum-clad foreign and domestic research reactor fuel to produce a low enriched uranium (LEU) solution suitable for conversion to commercial reactor fuel.  A secondary mission for H-Canyon is to dissolve excess plutonium (Pu) not suitable for MOX and transfer it for vitrification in the Defense Waste Processing Facility at SRS.

H Canyon was constructed in the early 1950s and began operations in 1955. The building is called a canyon because of its long rectangular shape and two continuous trenches that contains the process vessels. It is approximately 1,000 feet long with several levels to accommodate the various stages of material stabilization, including control rooms to monitor overall equipment and operating processes, equipment and piping gallery for solution transport, storage, and disposition, and unique overhead bridge cranes to support overall process operations. All work is remotely controlled, and employees are further protected from radiation by thick concrete walls.

Workers fill a container with LEU solution.
An operator in one of HB Line's control rooms.
(Top) Workers fill a container with LEU solution.
An operator
(bottom) in one of HB Line's control rooms.

In 1992, the Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that recovery of enriched uranium for reuse in weapons programs was no longer justified because of the reduction in the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. However, there was an inventory of highly enriched uranium fuels and solutions in various stages of the SRS process.

Between December 1995 and October 1997, DOE issued a series of decisions to resume chemical separation operations to stabilize and manage most of the remaining inventory of highly enriched uranium materials at SRS.  

H Canyon
H Canyon

At the direction of DOE, in October 1997, H Canyon began recovery of U-235. The resulting solution, also called “highly enriched uranium,” or HEU, is being blended with natural uranium (NU) to form low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is suitable for use in commercial nuclear power reactors. In July 2003, the first LEU shipment was sent to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Since this time 297 trailers, containing a total of 267 Metric Tons (MT) of LEU solution, have been shipped from SRS. This material has the energy value able to power every home in the USA for 47 days or every home in South Carolina for nine years. It is equivalent to 193 million barrels of crude oil and equivalent to eliminating 467 nuclear weapons.  SRS has saved $750 million in storage and disposal costs. TVA has been converting the LEU to fuel for their power reactors to generate electricity.  There have been no anomalies or fuel failures in the TVA reactors from use of the SRS fuel.

SRS has potentially an additional 240 MT of LEU yet to be processed by 2019.

The H Canyon Complex mission has supported the deinventory of several National Laboratories and the safe and cost effective disposition of many scrap materials.

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