Nuclear waste beat out a diamond mine and an extension of the Seattle light transit in the eyes of the Project Management Institute.
It named the the Hanford nuclear reservation project to empty radioactive waste from a failed underground tank its 2017 international Project of the Year.
The award is open to complex projects that cost more than $100 million and judges their project management performance, organizational results and positive impacts on society.
This year, the three finalists came down to the largest diamond mine constructed in the world since 2003 in an isolated stretch of tundra in northern Canada; Sound Transit’s expansion of the light rail system in Seattle and Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solution’s work to empty Tank AY-102 at Hanford.
The AY-102 project was “a highly critical task” because of the hundreds of thousands of people living near the nuclear reservation or down the Columbia River from Hanford, said Mark Langley, president of the Project Management Institute, the worlds’ leading association for project management professionals.
“Washington River Protection Solutions was able to establish and follow sound project management practices that allowed its challenging and potentially dangerous project to be completed successfully, on time and well within budget,” he said.
The professional organization credited the Hanford tank farm contractor’s success to a strong budget process that was supported by a comprehensive project schedule and a firm process for change requests.
Tank AY-102 was the first of 28 double-shell tanks built at Hanford that allow radioactive and hazardous chemical waste to be emptied from older, leak-prone single-shell tanks for storage until the waste can be treated for permanent disposal. Hanford tanks hold 56 million gallons of waste left from World War II and Cold War production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Tank AY-102 was taken out of service in 2012 after 42 years of operation because of what appeared to be a small amount of waste leaking from the inner shell into the space between the inner and outer shell. No waste is believed to have breached the outer shell to reach the environment.
Waste removal began in March 2016 using sluicers that sprayed high-pressure liquid within the enclosed tank to move waste toward a central pump.
As they became less effective, the contractor, as originally planned, replaced them with more advanced sluicers that could reach a greater area within the 1-million-gallon capacity tank and maneuver around 22 vertical pipes that had been built into the tank to help air-cool the waste.
The project required two years of preparation and infrastructure upgrades on AY-102 and the tank that received its waste. The project also required planning to help protect workers from potential exposure to chemical vapors and other hazards.
Work to retrieve 725,000 gallons of waste from Tank AY-102 was completed Feb. 15. It beat a Department of Energy requirement with the Washington Department of Ecology to have waste emptied from the tank by March 4.
The project came in $8.7 million under budget, according to the Project Management Institute.
“The work we do at Hanford is difficult and hazardous, making it imperative that safety is at the forefront of everything we do,” said Doug Greenwell, the contractor’s retrieval manager.
He said it was fitting that work done by skilled union employees — supported by engineers, project managers and safety staff — was recognized with a prestigious award.
Washington River Project Solutions also was given one of the Project Management Institute’s two awards in North America for project excellence.
It went to the AP Tank Farm exhauster upgrade project.
The AP Tank Farm was picked two years ago as the staging point for all tank waste that will be transferred to the Hanford vitrification plant for glassification for permanent disposal.
The winning project designed, fabricated and installed a new ventilation system for the eight AP tanks by September 2016.
Washington River Protection Solutions is an AECOM-led company.