Hanford

Hanford issue brings rare visit by National Academies to Richland. Public can comment

One option for treating all of the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks is to add a second Low Activity Waste Facility to the Hanford nuclear reservation’s vitrification facility. Construction of the plant’s current Low Activity Waste Facility could be finished in June.
One option for treating all of the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks is to add a second Low Activity Waste Facility to the Hanford nuclear reservation’s vitrification facility. Construction of the plant’s current Low Activity Waste Facility could be finished in June. Courtesy Bechtel National

A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has scheduled a Hanford-related public meeting in the Tri-Cities.

The academies are a nonprofit organization of the nation’s leading researchers, with a goal of providing objective, science-based advice on critical issues affecting the nation.

The academies committee is reviewing an analysis of options for treating some of the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in the nuclear reservation’s underground tanks.

It remains from the past production of plutonium at the Hanford nuclear reservation for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

Congress recommended the Department of Energy have a public-private partnership analyze tank waste treatment options and have the academies review the analysis.

A vitrification plant has been under construction at Hanford since 2002 at a cost expected to exceed $17 billion before it is fully operational. But it was never planned to have the capacity to treat all of the tank waste.

Different options have been considered for treating the excess waste, which would be some of the portion that is low activity radioactive waste rather than high level radioactive waste.

One option long considered is expanding the vitrification plant to add a second Low Activity Waste Facility. But other ways to treat waste, such as grouting it, also are being discussed by DOE.

The Washington Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator, has agreed to allow disposal of vitrified, or glassifed, low activity radioactive waste at a Hanford landfill, but has opposed disposing of grouted low activity radioactive waste at Hanford.

Ecology has said that glass is the best way to contain radioactive material over thousands of years and keep it out of Hanford groundwater that moves toward the Columbia River.

However, an emerging disposal option for grouted waste could be sending it to a new commercial landfill in Texas, the Waste Control Specialists Federal Waste Disposal Facility.

A Government Accountability Office report says grouting the waste would be far less expensive than treating it at the Hanford vit plant.

DOE has completed a test of grouting three gallons of Hanford tank waste and sending it to the Texas landfill, with two more progressively larger tests possible.

A third option, steam reforming, also will be analyzed, as ordered by Congress. Steam reforming uses super-heated steam and charcoal to combine clay and waste into a granular ceramic waste form.

The National Academies’ committee review will consider:

  • whether the risks and benefits of different treatment methods are being adequately analyzed
  • the results of the assessments
  • and possible approaches not being evaluated by the Department of Energy.

The meeting is set for 8:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 28, and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 1.

A session for public comment is planned 7 to 9:30 p.m. March 1.

The meetings will be at the Red Lion Hotel in Richland.

  Comments