Hanford workers may be just weeks away from the start of demolition of the nuclear reservation’s most hazardous building, the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
The Department of Energy faces a revised legal deadline to have the plant torn down to slab on grade by Sept. 30, 2017.
Under a recent change of plans, work to start demolition was put off for about two months to carry out a project that Hanford officials say will make demolition safer for workers and should shorten the time needed for demolition.
Now DOE and its contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., expect demolition of the plant’s Plutonium Reclamation Facility to start late this month or in early November.
Four of the glove boxes in the reclamation facility are part of the building’s structure, creating part of the wall of the high center area of the facility, called a canyon. Those will be removed during demolition.
It is the last major activity before we are ready for demolition.
Tom Bratvold, CH2M vice president for the Plutonium Finishing Plant
But a decision was made recently to remove eight other glove boxes that are not part of the building’s structure before demolition begins.
“It removes additional hazards from the building prior to demolition, which is good,” said Tom Bratvold, CH2M vice president at the plant.
Part of the concern was how high the glove boxes were within the facility. To get to them, the roof of the facility has to be removed.
The roof over the highest section — what workers call the “penthouse,” a small fifth- and sixth-floor structure rising above the rest of the building — was lifted off by a crane in late September. Since then, the first two glove boxes and part of the ventilation system have been lifted out by crane.
This weekend, if the wind is not blowing, part of the remainder of the roof covering the four-story-high section of the building will be removed.
The fourth, fifth and sixth floors have glove boxes, called column glove boxes, that are up to about five feet tall. The five others, miscellaneous treatment glove boxes, are on the fourth floor and are up to 22 feet long. They will be lifted out in one piece each.
At glove boxes, workers would reach their hands through attached gloves to work with radioactive material within the boxes.
Removing the eight glove boxes is “the last major activity before we are ready for demolition,” Bratvold said.
We will proceed at a safe, deliberate pace.
Tom Teynor, DOE project director
Demolition will cap a 20-year effort to clean out and decontaminate the Plutonium Finishing Plant, starting with stabilization of plutonium left in the plant in a liquid solution at the end of the Cold War.
The plant operated from 1948 to 1989, processing nearly two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium. It converted plutonium in a liquid solution into buttons the size of hockey pucks or a powder to be shipped to the nation’s weapons production facilities.
The building is the largest and most complex plutonium facility in the DOE complex, according to DOE.
Several buildings in the Plutonium Finishing Plant complex have been torn down in recent years. But the main production part of the plant and the attached Plutonium Reclamation Facility and Americium Recovery Facility remain standing.
The Plutonium Reclamation Facility was added to the plant as Cold War demand for plutonium increased. It recovered plutonium from scrap material that otherwise would have been wasted.
CH2M expects demolition of the Plutonium Reclamation Facility and packaging and removal of the debris to take about 12 weeks.
Most of the debris can be disposed of at the central Hanford landfill for low-level radioactive and hazardous chemical waste, but some will need to be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for disposal.
The Plutonium Finishing Plant could be demolished to slab on grade by June or July.
The Plutonium Reclamation Facility shares a wall with the Americium Recovery Facility, which is small enough that both should be down to slab on grade within about 13 weeks of the start of demolition.
Experienced and highly skilled crews that have been preparing those two facilities for demolition will be freed up to help with the final preparations for demolition of the main production portion of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
Hanford officials expect demolition to start there about a month after demolition of the two attached facilities is completed.
Work is continuing in the main area of the plant to remove ventilation system components, the highly contaminated vacuum transfer system piping and asbestos.
Demolition had been expected to start at the Plutonium Reclamation Facility as soon as late August after Hanford regulators in July granted DOE an extra year to complete the teardown of the plant.
Demolition is expected to not only be safer, but should be done more quickly at the Plutonium Reclamation Facility, with more of the glove boxes removed. The Plutonium Finishing Plant could be down to slab on grade by June or July, according to CH2M.
“We will proceed at a safe, deliberate pace,” said Tom Teynor, DOE project director.
Workers at the plant have routinely overcome challenges in the highly contaminated environment of the plant, he said, but “we are taking nothing for granted.”