Eight more buildings at the Plutonium Finishing Plant are gone as Hanford workers make way for the eventual teardown of the production portion of the plant.
"As we prepare to demolish the facility, we're ensuring that there is enough space around the main buildings to bring in heavy equipment and stage demolition debris," said Mike Swartz, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. vice president for the Plutonium Finishing Plant.
The eight buildings torn down over the past month bring the total to 61 buildings demolished or removed at the plant since 2008.
DOE has called the Plutonium Finishing Plant the most complex and hazardous facility at Hanford. It operated for 40 years starting in 1949, taking plutonium that had been chemically separated from Hanford's irradiated fuel rods and producing metal buttons the size of hockey pucks.
About two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program passed through the plant during the Cold War.
The look of the plant started to change after the last plutonium was sent to Savannah River, S.C., in 2009 as part of a project to consolidate the nation's weapons-grade materials at one site.
The portion of the plant where plutonium was stored in vaults was torn down, along with security features like a double row of Jersey barriers and five inspection stations that were manned by patrol officers.
Other work over the last eight years has included tearing down the water tower, the facility where waste was held before being sent to Hanford's underground waste tanks, and an incinerator that burned materials to reclaim any plutonium on them.
The work done over the past month included tearing down the long, 13,302-square-foot administration building built in the 1990s. An old security building that was original to the plant also was torn down. It covered 3,924 square feet and was sided with shingles containing asbestos that had to be removed before the building was demolished, Swartz said.
"Taking down and removing these office buildings and support structures provides a change in the skyline at the plant that brings us closer to completing this important cleanup project," said Bryan Foley, deputy project director for the Department of Energy.
The recent work has included removing six temporary offices. Remaining workers have been moved to other temporary office space outside the fence that was built around the plant for security it when it was operating.
The cleared space is expected to be used in 2016 for waste container loading and handling and to create space around areas with radiological contamination that will be demolished. DOE has a legally binding deadline to have the plant demolished to slab on grade in 2016.
Work is being done in the meantime to prepare the main plant for demolition.
At least 213 of 238 glove boxes in the production portion of the plant have been cleaned out and removed or are so large that they will not be removed until part of the building near them is torn down. The boxes are enclosed containers into which workers would reach using gloves to handle radioactive materials.
Swartz expects to have most glove boxes disconnected from the plant's ventilation system before January. That does not include some special cases -- the glove boxes in the McCluskey Room, the site of a 1976 chemical explosion, and the glove boxes in the Plutonium Reclamation Facility.
"After the gloveboxes are done, a pretty big step is left," Foley said.
Contaminated ducts attached to glove boxes have to be cleaned up, along with ancillary piping and then the housing for ventilation filters.
"We just keep working steady state -- safe and compliant," Swartz said. "Workers are doing a fantastic job."
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews