When Savannah River Tritium Enterprise (SRTE) built its new tritium gas extraction facility in the years around 2004, project and controls engineer Laura Sheets reports she and her colleagues knew they needed to automate more of their meticulously documented and compliant processes and procedures.
"Disciplined operations is a way of life at my site, including performing actions in a stepwise manner per the instructions specified in paper procedures, a practice that originated in the nuclear U.S. Navy," says Sheets, who is lead engineer for the DeltaV DCS on the project side of the tritium process control groups at SRTE, which is part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy's (DoE) Savannah River Site. "The operations team is considered the owner of the plant, and the operators are responsible for its safe and effective operation, and the control system is viewed as a tool that aids the operators. To decrease the potential for errors in procedure compliance and increase efficiency, we decided to utilize automated procedures."
This extraction facility and three other facilities are used to execute the Savannah River Site’s tritium missions. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is a crucial component of U.S. nuclear weapons. The supply of tritium in the U.S. nuclear stockpile must be continually replenished because it radioactively decays 5.5% annually to helium-3. SRTE is responsible for providing the nation’s supply of tritium, which it accomplishes in two ways: recycling tritium from warheads and extracting it from target rods. These recycled and extracted gases are purified to produce usable tritium, which is loaded into stainless-steel reservoirs that are shipped to the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) for installation in nuclear weapons.