Early Career Engineer Finds Fulfillment in SRS Liquid Waste Mission

Christina Santos stands in front of the Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit at the Savannah River Site.

AIKEN, S.C. (May 16, 2019) – Expecting to discover an exciting opportunity in the oil industry, engineer Christina Santos applied for an internship at Savannah River Remediation (SRR) to work with tanks.

To her surprise, the tanks at Environmental Management’s Savannah River Site (SRS) turned out to hold radioactive liquid waste — not oil.

Santos took the summer internship in 2014 anyway, and soon became fascinated with the liquid waste process and excited about her career prospects at SRS.

Fast forward to her current role as a chemical process engineer: Santos supports process chemistry troubleshooting, evaluations, maintenance, equipment troubleshooting, and other work at the Modular Caustic Side Solvent Extraction Unit (MCU), an interim salt waste processing facility that operates at SRS.

MCU processes the salt waste feed from the SRS Tank Farms, which hold about 35 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste, 90 percent of which is salt waste. Once operational, the new Salt Waste Processing Facility will continue the salt processing mission at SRS, and MCU will be decommissioned.

After graduating from the University of New Haven in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Santos wanted a career to apply her knowledge in math, chemistry, and physics. Knowing the positive impact her work would have on the environment and community, she believed SRR was the right fit. Santos was right, as she says her career there has been fulfilling.

“I enjoy the technical aspect of what I do and the chemistry involved with salt waste processing,” Santos said. “But what is most important to me is the responsibility that comes with my role and the interactions with the organizations that facilitate working toward the mission of closing waste tanks.”

According to Jim Folk, DOE-Savannah River assistant manager for waste disposition, integrating young talent into the workforce helps SRS on many fronts.

“A reaction occurs when newly graduated engineers arrive on site and work with seasoned technical experts,” Folk said. “It is how innovative ideas are created, which helps drive the mission forward.”

When Santos moved to Aiken, she learned she shares her two favorite hobbies, horseback riding and tennis, with many people in the area.

“Working at the Savannah River Site and living in Aiken feels like it was meant to be all along,” Santos said. “I’m happy my journey in chemical engineering has brought me to this significant work at SRS.”

SRR is a team of companies led by AECOM with partners Bechtel National, Jacobs, and BWX Technologies, Inc. Critical subcontractors for the contract are Orano, Atkins, and AECOM N&E Technical Solutions.