The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – Baltimore District has awarded a contract to decommission and dismantle the SM-1A Reactor Facility to Aptim-Amentum Alaska Decommissioning (A3D). The standalone C-contract contract estimated to be worth $95.5m over six years will integrate and leverage proven new technologies to dispose of both hazardous and radioactive materials.

Amentum, based in Virginia, is a global engineering, project management and solutions integration company. APTIM, based in Louisiana, specialises in environmental services, resilience, sustainability, and energy solutions, as well as technical and data solutions, programme management, and critical infrastructure.

A3D won the contract after protesting against an earlier decision to award it to Westinghouse. In August 2022, USACE awarded a $103m to Westinghouse Government Services (WGS) for the work.

However, A3D alleged that USACE had misevaluated the WGS proposal and also failed to engage in adequate, equal discussions with the company. In April, the US Government Accountability Office partially upheld the protest and recommended that USACE “eliminate WGS from further consideration for award and make award to one of the remaining firms in the competition, if otherwise proper.” Alternatively, USACE could reopen discussions among the competitors; solicit, obtain and evaluate revised proposals as the basis for its decision. A3D won the contract after lowering its original bid of $133.5m.

“As a global leader in environmental solutions, our experience in nuclear remediation is extensive,” said, of Amentum’s National Security Group President Mark Whitney said Amentum will provide USACE with “advanced engineering capabilities and solutions that have been successful at some of the most challenging environmental cleanup projects in the world”.

David Lowe, Senior Vice President of APTIM’s Nuclear Decommissioning business unit, said, APTIM has a long history of supporting USACE and the Army Reactor Office (ARO) in decontamination and decommissioning projects. “Our extensive experience performing reactor decommissioning projects for USACE and the ARO enables us to bring advanced innovations and solutions to complete the work safely and effectively at Fort Greely,” he noted. “We will partner with USACE , regulators, and community stakeholders to eliminate the environmental liabilities of this legacy, ageing nuclear facility.”

Other members of A3D’s team include Heritage – M2C1 Joint Venture, a HUBZone small business location in Delta Junction, Alaska; Lynden Logistics; Brice Environmental; Oak Ridge Technologies; ReNuke Services; AECOM Technical Services; and Delta Junction Medical.

Under this new contract, the work will be performed at Fort Greely, Alaska and will include planning, permitting, and engineering, site preparation, demolition and disposal of facilities and components from the defuelled nuclear reactor, related wells and utility corridors, and other ancillary facilities. The contract also includes remediation of contaminated soils, a final status survey, and site restoration.

The SM-1A reactor achieved criticality in 1962 and was shut down in March of 1972, followed by the removal and disposition of the used fuel in 1973. The primary mission of the single-loop, 20.2 megawatt-thermal pressurized water reactor was to establish a cold-weather nuclear power plant to support power to Fort Greely, with a secondary mission to study the economics of operating a nuclear electric power plant as compared to operating a conventional oil-fired system in a remote location.

SM-1A was built between 1958 and 1962, and operated from 1962 to 1972. The design was based on the concept of the SM-1 reactor at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, a prototype for stationary medium-power plants (SM). 1A designates it as the first field plant of its type. It was designed to be used as an “in-service” test facility in an Arctic environment with its primary mission being to supply electrical power and heating steam for the utility systems at Fort Greely. The secondary mission was to study the economics of operating a nuclear-type electrical plant in a remote area where fuel costs are high and supply lines unusually long.

The final shutdown in March 1972 was in accordance with the SM-1A Decommissioning Plan approved by the Army Reactor Systems Health & Safety Review Committee (ARCHS). This consisted of removal of the highly enriched uranium dioxide nuclear fuel, minor decontamination, shipment of pre-packaged radioactive waste, encasing certain reactor components (vapour container, waste tanks, and demineraliser room), sealing the pressure vessel, and installing appropriate warning signs and monitoring devices.

Certain areas were maintained as restricted areas for radiation safety considerations. This method of decommissioning was selected to minimise costs and personnel radiation exposure. Future remediation was deferred until radiation levels and quantities of radioactive waste were significantly reduced. In 1995, Fort Greely was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure list (BRAC) under which certain areas were investigated and remediated. The base was then removed from the BRAC list and remained open to support critical Army missions.

The decommissioning strategy developed in the 1970s recommended that the deactivated reactors should be placed into a safe storage mode to allow the shorter-lived radionuclides to decay. Delaying decommissioning was expected to reduce radioactive waste volumes and worker exposures. However, preliminary studies indicated that the levels of contamination present within the reactors would not be reduced by decay sufficiently to allow for release of the facilities without significant decontamination. Additionally, concern regarding the increasing cost and decreasing availability of radioactive waste disposal led the Army Reactor Office (ARO) to reassess disposal options.

USACE developed a management plan for conducting an All Hazards Assessment, which contained provisions for four phases of work. Phase I included a Historical Records Review & Disposal Alternatives Investigation. Phase II included performing a characterisation survey and decommissioning cost estimate, which was completed in 2015. Phases III and IV deal with decommissioning planning, design, and execution. Decommissioning Planning has been completed and USACE has received a Decommissioning Permit from ARO.

The remaining materials that have been entombed in concrete or safely stored onsite will now be removed as part of the contract with A3D. An on-site kick-off meeting at Fort Greely will take place in late October, paving the way for our preparatory work at the site. The team is targeting a full mobilisation to the site by mid-2024. Project completion is currently anticipated by 2029. The site will then be released to the Garrison for future use.

Image: The SM-1A reactor facility at Fort Greely, Alaska (courtesy of USACE)