Energy Secretary Steven Chu to visit Tri-Cities

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldAugust 28, 2012 

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is tentatively expected to spend much of next week in the Tri-Cities, holed up with a group of hand-picked experts.

Chu and his team plan to take a fresh look at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, focusing specifically on its black cells.

The vitrification plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's weapons program. It will be turned into a stable glass form for disposal.

The plant is planned to have 18 black cells -- enclosed concrete rooms with tanks and piping that are designed to have no worker access during the 40 years the plant operates because of high levels of radioactivity.

The review will look at the plant's capability to detect equipment failure and to repair failed equipment within the black cells. Changes to the design or operation plan of the plant could be proposed.

Chu is not expected to conduct any other business related to the Hanford nuclear reservation or DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory while he is in town.

The location where he and his team will work has not been disclosed for security reasons.

"I will be receiving input from each of these highly capable experts to help improve our ability to detect and address any potential issues in the black cells that could arise during the course of the Waste Treatment Plant's operation life," Chu said in a statement when the members of the new technical review panel were announced at the first of this month.

During his visit to Hanford in June, Chu told a worker that the possibility of a serious problem once the plant begins operating weighed heavily on his mind. He said that then he was considering assembling the sort of panel of brilliant and creative thinkers he brought together after the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The panel was scheduled to start reviewing information about the vit plant immediately.

The team includes Langdon Holton of PNNL; Thomas Hunter, retired director of Sandia National Laboratories; David Kosson, Vanderbilt University professor of engineering; Milton Levenson, who has 60 years experience in nuclear energy; Arun Majumdar, the first director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy; Richard Meserve, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Per Peterson, chairman of the nuclear engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley; and Monica Regalbuto of Argonne National Laboratory.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533;

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