As Lisa Amidon stood on a structure high enough to overlook the massive, H Area Tank Farm at the Savannah River Site, she explained that right now, Savannah River Remediation, the liquid Site's liquid waste contractor, is processing waste, getting batches ready to send to the necessary facilities and closing waste tanks.

Amidon is a first-line manager in the tank farms and is one of the main cogs in a group of about 150 employees.

This week, she sat down with the Aiken Standard and explained her individual duties, as well as the contractor's, or SRR, collaborative goal of treating waste and closing waste tanks.

Starting at 5:30 a.m.

“Every morning I get in at 5:30 a.m., and I get a morning report that includes logs, tank levels, and other information,” she said.

Amidon explained that there shift managers that swap in and out throughout the day and night who also give each other status updates.

Meetings and updates are a huge part of the contractor's process, she said.

“They really help me because my job is to lay out the plan so that they all they have to do in the field is execute their work,” said Amidon.

In the control room

“Once I feel comfortable with what happened during the evening, I go up to the control room,” Amidon said.

The control room staffs 22 operators, four supervisors, a control room manager and a shift manager.

Amidon said that the people in the room are extremely confident in their roles. She explained that much of the liquid waste work that the contractor does can be traced to the control room. There, workers are controlling several pieces of equipment and literally controlling where materials are supposed to go. In addition, workers monitor the liquid waste tanks.

“I work very closely with the employees in the control room,” she said. “Their job is essential to all of the work we do here.”

Down to the Tank Farms

SRR has been hired to clean and close a total of 51 waste tanks; 22 tanks in F Tank Farm and 29 in the H Tank Farm.

From her view of the tank farms, Amidon explained that each tank is about the perimeter of a basketball court and is 84-feet high.

Of the remaining tanks the contractor has to close, 45 of them are underground. For safety reasons, Amidon said there is about 8 feet of earth between the workers and the tanks.

“There is radiological material underneath, but the beds of rocks and the earth provide a shield to keep us safe,” she said.

SRR has already operationally closed four waste tanks, and is currently eyeing Tanks 12 and 16 which are currently scheduled to close by September 2015.

What it means to 'close'

Closing a tank sounds like an elementary task; but Amidon explained that it is a tedious process that involves a lot of work.

The tanks are filled with a majority of liquid waste and a smaller amount of salt waste. The salt waste also contains salt water that has to be evaporated out to get to the pure, salt material.

“With the evaporator, we have just that solid salt which is easier to deal with,” she said.

Once the salt waste is separated from the liquid waste, each solution has a different destination. The salt waste is sent off to the Salt Waste Processing Facility and the liquid waste is sent to the Defense Waste Processing Facility for processing.

Once the waste is removed, the tanks are cleaned and grouted, meaning a special concrete solution is poured into them and solidifies inside the tank.

Amidon said her role in the process is laying out strategic plans so that all the field workers have to do is execute.

“The people here are really confident in what they do,” she said. “And many of them are multi-generational, so they have that background and knowledge about the Site.”

Working through the challenges

Amidon began working at SRS 26 years ago. As a recent Clemson graduate, she said her challenges back then included coming in as an engineer and not knowing what any of the facilities were.

Eventually, she worked her way up from an operator to a supervisor and became a shift manager.

Today, she's right back where she started but in a different role as a first-line manager.

Now, she explained, the challenges she sees are of a different variety.

“The challenges now are trying to get to where (we) want to get to in a timely manner,” she said. “We can only go as far as the budget and the people we have will take us. So trying to find ways to use our funding efficiently and get to the next level is a challenge.”

Savannah River Remediation is comprised of a team of companies led by URS Corporation, with partners Bechtel National, CH2M HILL and Babcock & Wilcox. Critical subcontractors for the contract are AREVA, Energy Solutions and URS Professional Solutions.

Derrek Asberry is the SRS beat reporter for the Aiken Standard.