Vit plant's autosampling system complete

RICHLAND -- Two Richland companies have finished the "last and most significant pieces" of the autosampling system for the Hanford vitrification plant's low-activity waste facility, officials said Wednesday.

The system will ensure the glass produced by the $12.2 billion vit plant meets all regulatory standards and requirements.

It was designed by EnergySolutions and fabricated by Mid-Columbia Engineering, both of Richland.

"We were able to draw on local expertise and capabilities to design and fabricate this equipment, which will be essential to quality control during vit plant operations," said Mark Watts, manager of procurement and subcontracts at the vit plant, in a press release issued Wednesday.

When operational, the autosampling system will be used to take samples throughout the vitrification process and transport them to the Analytical Laboratory for testing and evaluation.

About 10,000 samples will be analyzed annually from all three waste-processing facilities -- the pretreatment, high-level waste and low-activity waste facilities.

Waste will be sampled using remotely operated robotic arms inside shielded boxes within the facilities. The samples will be deposited into 15-milliliter bottles, which will be encased in tightly sealed carriers.

The specially designed carriers then will be transported to the lab via a pneumatic transfer system, similar to those used at a bank drive-thru. Stainless steel pipes will run between each facility and the lab and transport the samples at 25 feet per second.

This week, the vit plant received the two autosamplers -- each containing a robotic arm and shielded box -- that will be housed in the low-activity waste facility. The plant also received almost 150 carriers and more than 6,500 bottles.

"The ongoing receipt and installation of equipment like the autosampling system are key to keeping the project on track to complete the vit plant's (low-activity waste facility), lab, and balance of facilities by 2016," said Dale Knutson, Department of Energy federal project director for the vit plant.

The low-activity waste facility is the furthest along of the four major nuclear facilities that compose the vit plant, at 65 percent constructed. Autosampling equipment for the pretreatment and high-level waste facilities are expected to arrive in 2012.

Bechtel National is designing and building the world's largest radioactive waste treatment plant for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The vit plant is being built to immobilize the radioactive liquid waste currently stored in 177 underground tanks.

The process involves blending the waste with molten glass and heating it to high temperatures.

The mixture is then poured into stainless steel canisters. In this glass form, the waste is stable and impervious to the environment, and its radioactivity will dissipate over hundreds to thousands of years.