The first shipment of highly radioactive sludge was trucked across the Hanford nuclear reservation to a safer storage location Monday morning.
The 15-minute drive was the culmination of nine years of preparations, equipment development and training to remove sludge from underwater containers at the K West Reactor Basin, just 400 yards from the Columbia River.
The Department of Energy and contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. expect up to 23 more trips to be required over the next year to move all sludge from underwater containers to dry storage at T Plant in the center of the Hanford Site.
The containers will be stored in below-ground cells there until they can be prepared for disposal. The cells were once a part of the process to remove plutonium from irradiated fuel at T Plant.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
The sludge is highly radioactive because it contains particles of deteriorated irradiated fuel that was not processed at the end of the Cold War to remove plutonium for the nation's weapons program.
Instead, the fuel was stored in water-filled cooling basins attached to the K West and K East reactors near the river. Before the fuel was removed in 2004, it corroded underwater, and fuel corrosion particles, metal fragments and dirt combined to form sludge.
About 950 cubic feet of sludge accumulated in the basins, with all the sludge collected and transferred to underwater containers in the K West Basin before preparations began to move it to dry storage.
On June 12, workers started the process of transferring multiple batches of sludge into the container that was trucked within a shipping cask for storage at T Plant on Monday.
DOE has a legal deadline to have all the sludge moved to T Plant by the end of 2019 and then must have a treatment and packaging plan for disposal of the sludge selected by 2022.