WSU Tri-Cities to receive donated laboratory

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 2, 2011 

— Washington State University Tri-Cities is expected to get a new laboratory building, after EnergySolutions was awarded a Hanford subcontract.

Bechtel National announced Thursday that EnergySolutions Federal EPC of Richland was awarded a subcontract to build a facility for large-scale testing of the Hanford vitrification plant's waste-mixing system and to perform the testing.

EnergySolutions will be teaming with NuVision to build a laboratory for the testing and plans to donate it to WSU Tri-Cities, said Tom Yount, vice president of EnergySolutions' engineering technology group.

Details of the EnergySolutions and WSU Tri-Cities collaboration are being worked out, but are expected to be announced Sept. 9 by WSU President Elson Floyd in Richland.

In January, the WSU Board of Regents considered a proposal by WSU Tri-Cities to enter a partnership with EnergySolutions on construction of a $2.5 million testing facility. Some details have changed since then, including the value of the planned facility, which has increased, Yount said.

The original proposal was for a 13,000-square-foot laboratory to be built on seven acres of university land on the southwest corner of George Washington Way and University Drive in Richland.

It would include a 10,000-square-foot high bay building for the mixing test and an attached office wing, according to original plans. The roof in the high bay would be removable to allow large tanks to be lowered into the building.

After the building is constructed, EnergySolutions would donate it to WSU Tri-Cities and then lease it back at a nominal cost.

The company has a similar relationship with The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It built a smaller lab there to research melters for waste and glass-forming materials that will be installed at the Hanford vitrification plant, and the lab now belongs to the university.

When WSU Tri-Cities officials discussed the plan in January, they said the large tanks could be useful for university work that required tall tanks, such as bioproduct fermentation and water resource work.

The Hanford testing would use nonradioactive waste simulants, so the tanks would not be contaminated.

In October, the Department of Energy told the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board that it would conduct large-scale tests of a mixing system planned to keep high level radioactive waste mixed in 38 tanks at the Hanford vitrification plant.

Bechtel National is building the $12.2 billion plant to turn much of 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste stored in underground tanks at Hanford into a stable glass form for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's weapons program.

"Awarding the large-scale testing subcontract is a significant milestone because it supports our commitment to ensure the plant will safely and effectively process Hanford's radioactive and chemical waste," said Dale Knutson, DOE project director, in a statement.

Bechtel did not release the amount or length of the subcontract it awarded to EnergySolutions.

The laboratory that EnergySolutions will build is expected to be used to test how well the mixing system will scale up.

"Our large-scale testing effort will be used to confirm results of the small-scale tests of the mixing design and to identify and implement adjustments well before the vit plant is operational," said Frank Russo, Bechtel project director, in a statement.

In areas of the plant where tanks will hold high level radioactive waste, mixers, called pulse jet mixers, with no moving parts will be used because the areas will be too dangerous for humans to enter for maintenance and repairs once the plant begins operating.

The large scale testing is expected to demonstrate whether the mixers can keep the waste thoroughly mixed and how well a system works that has been proposed to remove waste particles if they settle out and collect on the bottom of the tank.

The defense board has been concerned that if plutonium builds up on the bottom of a tank, there is a remote possibility of a criticality.

"We are confident, based on the results of our small-scale testing, that the mixing design of the vessels meets the safety design basis," Russo said.

The laboratory also is planned to be used for testing as preparations are made to start operating the plant. DOE is required to begin treating waste at the plant in 2019.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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