Tank farm contract extended 3 years

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 30, 2013 

The contract to manage and operate Hanford's tank farms was extended for three years by the Department of Energy Monday, the last day of fiscal 2013.

Washington River Protection Solutions will continue work to empty leak-prone single-shell tanks holding radioactive waste for the next three fiscal years. The contract extension is valued at about $1.7 billion.

Washington River Protection Solutions won the tank farms contract in 2008 in a competitive bidding process. It included an initial five-year period that ended Monday and then options for extensions of three years through fiscal 2016 and then two years through fiscal 2018.

The contract extension awarded Monday recognizes Washington River Protection Solutions' strong performance and commitment to safety, said Stacy Charboneau, deputy manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, in a memo to employees. Earlier this year, the contractor reached an unprecedented milestone of 7 million hours worked without an employee losing a day of work because of a workplace injury, she said.

Among other highlights of the first five years was emptying waste from three of Hanford's 149 single-shell tanks in a single year, 2012.

That was the only year in which Washington River Protection Solutions emptied a tank to regulatory standards, but it could finish emptying Tank C-110 this month. It would be the 11th tank emptied by Washington River Protection Solutions and the previous tank farm contractor.

Washington River Protection Solutions also has finished retrieving the bulk of the sludge from five tanks, leaving only a hard layer at the bottom of each tank.

Radioactive and hazardous chemical waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program is being emptied from single-shell tanks into 28 newer double-shell tanks until it can be treated for disposal.

Charboneau also praised Washington River Protection Solutions for developing the capability to retrieve waste from three single-shell tanks at the same time, a first for the Hanford tank farms.

Late this summer, Washington River Protection Solutions was retrieving waste from Tanks C-110 and C-101 at the same time. However, pumping to remove waste from Tank C-101 has stopped after technology being used was no longer removing waste with several thousands of gallons of waste remaining at the bottom of the tank. Almost 80,000 gallons of waste were removed.

Hanford officials are evaluating the next step on that tank.

Washington River Protection Solutions also brought the Mobile Arm Retrieval System, or MARS, to the tank farms. It's the largest and most robust system that has been used to empty the underground, enclosed tanks and required the unprecedented step of cutting a 55-inch diameter hole in the top of a tank and installing a new riser large enough to lower the MARS system into the tank.

In almost two years, the first MARS system, used in Tank C-107, has not emptied the tank, mostly because of problems in double-shell tank systems used during waste retrieval. A second MARS system is expected to be put into use this winter.

The 10-year Washington River Protection Solutions' contract initially was valued at $7.1 billion. However, the contractor also received $326 million in one-time federal economic stimulus money shortly after starting work at Hanford. It used that money mostly to improve aging infrastructure that will continue to be needed as waste is treated for disposal at the Hanford vitrification plant.

Key projects included upgrades to the 242-A Evaporator, which reduces liquid waste in double-shell tanks to make more space available and allow work to continue to empty single-shell tanks, and to the 222-S Laboratory, where Advanced Technologies and Laboratories analyzes radioactive waste.

Washington River Protection Solutions started work at the tank farms with about 1,100 workers and now employs 1,600 workers. The contractor is led by URS Corp. with EnergySolutions and Areva as part of the contracting team.

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

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