Washington State University Tri-Cities' newest building was dedicated Wednesday, thanks to Hanford and the generosity of EnergySolutions and NuVision Engineering.
The approximately $3 million EnergySolutions Engineering Laboratory initially will be used to continue testing of mixing systems for the Department of Energy's Hanford vitrification plant to resolve technical issues.
EnergySolutions, which has a subcontract for the research, constructed the building with a high bay to carry out large-scale testing in a tank with a 14-foot diameter. Its subcontractor NuVision Engineering is an investor in the building.
But rather than keeping the building, EnergySolutions donated it to WSU Tri-Cities and will lease it back for a nominal fee through June 2013 and then likely longer at market rates to conduct the research.
When that work is completed, the laboratory will be available for university use, with plans to bolster the school's growing engineering program.
"It will impact students, faculty and economic development in this community for years to come," said Fran Forgette, WSU regent and Tri-City attorney.
The building, on Q Avenue just off University Drive in north Richland, also will bolster the Tri-Cities Research District, said James R. Pratt, WSU Tri-Cities interim chancellor.
In a time of tight government budgets, there is little hope of capital projects for the school being paid for by the state or other sources, Forgette said.
Instead, "the community has to pull together to form partnerships like we have today," he said.
"I don't want to see this facility be just for the Department of Energy, although they are a very important customer," said Alan Parker, president of EnergySolutions' government group. "I want to see the next Rover test done on this campus."
WSU Tri-Cities has been short on large spaces and has had to turn away a large equipment donation for lack of a place to house it, Pratt said. It also is pressed for laboratory and teaching laboratory space, he said.
When WSU Tri-Cities has full use of the building, it might be used for biofuel, wine science or more fundamental science programs, giving students hands-on science and engineering experience.
Because testing for Hanford will be done with a nonradioactive simulant of the nuclear reservation waste, the laboratory will not be contaminated.
The building, constructed by Fowler General Construction of Richland, includes a 10,000-square-foot-high bay that is up to 52 feet high and also 3,000 square feet of office space. It's topped with a skylight that will allow the pulse jet mixing system being tested to be lifted through the roof and placed inside the mixing tank that will be installed in the high bay.
A 90-foot tower will be built beside the building for use in the vitrification plant mixing test.
The research was planned to address questions about whether radioactive waste will remain well mixed in tanks inside the vitrification plant, which is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of waste into a stable glass form for disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's weapons program.
Work on key parts of the plant has been slowed until mixing and other technical issues are addressed. If certain high level radioactive waste does not remain well mixed, plutonium could build up at the bottom of the tanks, creating a slight risk of an unplanned nuclear reaction. There also is a risk of a buildup of flammable gases.
Once the vitrification starts operating, some areas of the plant will be too radioactive for workers to enter. To limit the need for maintenance or repairs, a mixing system is planned with no moving parts. Pulse jet mixers will work like a turkey basters in the tanks, sucking up waste and then shooting it back out to disperse the solids that are starting to settle.
EnergySolutions holds a subcontract awarded by DOE contractor Bechtel National for mixing tests, which have started at an eight-foot diameter tank at Mid-Columbia Engineering in Richland, which is part of NuVision.
Overall research objectives include seeing how the mixing system works on a larger scale than tested so far, testing mixing performance with more complex waste simulants and testing how well systems work together, including mixing, sampling, control and transfer systems.
Among specific testing yet to be done at the 8-foot diameter tanks is a look at the performance of the pulse jet mixers, including the consistency of the materials pumped from the mixing tanks.
At the 14-foot diameter tank to be installed in the new WSU Tri-Cities building, direct comparisons will be done to select vitrification plant tank designs. It also will provide further data on performance at a large scale, including the performance of full-scale pulse jet mixers.
The tower that will be built will be used for air pumps, called jet pumps, for the mixers to allow testing of their performance.
In the next six months the 14 foot tank and associated equipment will be installed in the building, said Tom Yount, EnergySolutions executive vice president. Testing operations are expected to start next summer.
WSU President Elson Floyd was expected to attend the ceremony Wednesday, but was kept away by a family emergency, and Provost Warwick Bayly filled in for him. David Lockwood, EnergySolutions' new chief executive, also had planned to be there but bad weather stranded him in Florida.
However, Parker filled in for Lockwood, saying, "I want to declare the EnergySolutions Engineering Laboratory officially open for business."
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com