Bechtel National has met Department of Energy conditions to resume construction halted in 2012 in part of a facility that will handle high-level radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
But work may not proceed soon.
Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu stopped construction five years ago on parts of the Hanford vitrification plant that will handle high-level radioactive waste until technical issues were addressed.
All construction stopped at the plant’s Pretreatment Facility, which will separate waste into low-activity and high-level radioactive waste streams for separate treatment, and at part of the High Level Waste Facility.
The High Level Waste Facility will glassify waste for eventual disposal at a deep geological repository, which was expected to be at Yucca Mountain, Nev.
In 2014, Bechtel — the Department of Energy contractor — was cleared to resume full production engineering to complete design of the High Level Waste Facility.
To also resume all purchasing and construction, it had to meet certain requirements, including completing a Preliminary Documented Safety Analysis for the facility.
The staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said in a recently released weekly report that the analysis had been completed.
The analysis addresses issues including a strategy to control the possibility of hydrogen building up and creating an explosion, the report said.
The report added that High Level Waste Facility “activities will be constrained in the near term by competing priorities.”
DOE faces a 2023 federal court-ordered deadline to start treating low-activity radioactive waste, and efforts are focused on meeting or beating that deadline with the federal money available.
The federal court deadline for full operations of the vitrification plant, including glassification of high-level radioactive waste, is not until 2036.
DOE continues to operate on last fiscal year’s budget numbers, with Congress yet to approve funding for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
To start up the Low Activity Waste Facility without the Pretreatment Facility available to prepare different waste streams, DOE is building an additional and much smaller pretreatment facility, called the Low Activity Waste Pretreatment System, that can pull some of the low-activity waste out of the other waste.
DOE pointed out in a statement Friday that construction on parts of the High Level Waste Facility not affected by technical issues has continued since 2012.
It acknowledged that Bechtel has met all of the criteria to resume procurement and construction at the facility.
But, like the weapons board report, it said DOE’s focus is on work needed to start low-activity waste treatment.
Bechtel has not been cleared to restart construction at the vitrification plant’s Pretreatment Facility.
However, all technical issues affecting the Pretreatment Facility may be resolved by the end of this year, according to DOE officials.
Hanford has 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste held in underground tanks, with much of it planned to be treated at the vitrification plant for permanent disposal. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.