Safety, Quality, Innovation Highlight Accomplishments at Savannah River Site Tritium Programs for Fiscal Year 2011

Press Release
Dec 20, 2011

AIKEN, S.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that the Tritium Programs at the Savannah River Site (SRS) have successfully met and exceeded its Defense Program goals in FY 2011.

Tritium Programs’ success in supporting U.S. nuclear security through tritium production, maintenance and testing of gas transfer systems and research and development topped the list of FY 2011 accomplishments that included advancements in safety, helium-3 production, conduct of operations, and productivity.

“Most importantly, the tritium team performed all work safely and effectively, continually demonstrating their resolve in establishing and maintaining safety as the highest priority,” said Don Cook, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “That pervasive safety culture at all levels of the organization resulted in no recordable injuries for the entire year. I’m extremely proud of that.”

In addition to achieving more than 990,000 safe hours worked and completing the fiscal year without a lost workday due to injury, NNSA’s tritium program extended its record of on-time, high-quality reservoir shipments to the military – now more than 53 consecutive years of meeting customer commitments. Quality Assurance continued to implement improvements and efficiencies to ensure that critical quality standards were met or exceeded at reasonable cost to NNSA, increasing the acceptance rate of initial inspections to 99.6 percent, a full percentage point more than 2010 performance.

Fostering a culture of continuous improvement, Tritium Programs established a process for achieving and validating productivity savings from improvement initiatives, exceeding the $2.1 million annual productivity savings goal. The organization provided process improvement training to employees and validated 37 improvement initiatives for the year.

The Tritium Programs were recognized for safely executing a plan to accelerate shipments over several months to support emerging customer requirements, participating in a workforce restructuring initiative and qualifying 20 new process operators while maintaining focus and high standards of performance, achieving a 98.3 percent facility availability rate for the year.

In conjunction with Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), Tritium Programs continued to develop and mature significant new technologies affecting nuclear security, tritium and helium-3 production while maintaining capabilities and expertise essential to the Defense Programs mission. The partnership between Tritium Programs and SRNL enabled significant developments in hydrogen isotope separation, solid state hydrogen storage, sensor technologies, non-destructive testing, nanotechnology and catalysis. A joint effort between SRNL, Tritium Programs and the National Security Agency resulted in an ultra-secure short range wireless sensor network to be deployed at SRS. The network is being considered for use in Department of Defense applications. Developments in the Thermal Cycling Absorption Process used to separate hydrogen isotopes led to a prototype that delivers better product purity, has a significantly smaller footprint and requires 60 percent less energy.

Notable Tritium Programs accomplishments for FY 2011 include:

Human Performance Improvements

Tritium Programs developed the Tritium Programs Operational Excellence Plan, establishing a comprehensive program of operational discipline, based on underlying human performance principles, to assure sustained operational excellence.

Mission Execution Excellence

Tritium Programs completed all function test requirements for gas transfer system surveillance, delivering vital information to design agencies in support of the annual stockpile certification. Tritium Programs met all helium-3 shipping requirements in support of homeland security initiatives.

National Tritium Production Center

The Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) completed all annual tritium extraction requirements ahead of schedule and without incident. TEF extracts tritium from target rods that have been irradiated in a commercial light water reactor by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Project Execution In Support of Transformation and Modernization

Tritium Programs achieved on-time mechanical completion of three important projects that serve to upgrade and relocate process equipment and systems. These projects enabled the replacement of corroded piping in the Purge Stripper/Zeolite Bed Recovery system, the relocation of the helium-3 separation and bottling function from a cold war-era facility, and the integration of the distributed control systems from three facilities to allow for future consolidation of the duplicate control room functions. This is part of the Tritium Responsive Infrastructure Modifications initiative to modernize infrastructure and reduce costs over the next 10 years.

Governance Reform and Contractor Assurance

Tritium Programs implemented various aspects of the NNSA Transformational Governance Oversight Policy. This initiative works to right size the government and contractor interface by implementing improved communication, measurement and reporting tools.

Tritium is a heavy isotope of hydrogen and a key component of nuclear weapons, but it decays radioactively at the rate of 5.5 percent each year and must be replenished periodically. This is accomplished by recycling tritium from existing warheads and by extracting tritium from target rods irradiated in a nuclear reactor that is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Recycled and extracted gases are purified to produce tritium that is suitable for use. The SRS Tritium Programs occupy approximately 29 acres in the northwest portion of H Area. Operations began in 1955.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.