Hanford officials can start thinking about how they will train workers for the start up the site's $17 billion vitrification plant.
Bechtel National nuclear safety engineers have finished a 7,000-page document that outlines the potential hazards of treating low-activity radioactive waste and what's needed to control the dangers.
It took three years to complete.
The safety plan will play an important part in training, qualifying and preparing the workforce, said Brian Reilly, the Bechtel National director for the project.
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The Documented Safety Analysis, a federal requirement for Department of Energy nuclear facilities, is intended to protect the public, workers and the environment.
The plan is a contract requirement for Bechtel National. Its successful completion makes Bechtel eligible for up to $6.65 million in incentive pay from the Department of Energy.
DOE has conducted an independent evaluation of the plan and given its approval.
"This is the start of the transition that we'll make . . . to an operating nuclear facility," said Brian Vance, manager of the Department of Energy Office of River Protection. "That's not been done at Hanford for a very, very long time."
DOE has a federal court-enforced deadline to start turning low-activity radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal by 2023.
The Hanford nuclear reservation has 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
The entire plant, including treatment of high-level radioactive tank waste, is not required to be fully operating until 2036.
The initial treatment of low-activity waste will provide operating experience at the plant and help to free up limited space in 27 newer double-shell tanks. The space is needed to hold more waste emptied from 149 leak-prone single-shell tanks until that waste can be treated.
The vitrification plant project is on schedule to move the Low Activity Waste Facility from a construction phase to start up this summer, Reilly said.
In the start-up phase the facility systems are tested.
After that, procedures will be developed, the workforce will be trained and qualified, and the plant will be prepared to bring the plant on line.
The Documented Safety Analysis provides the safety guidance needed for those steps.
"It really is a significant milestone in the progression to making glass," Reilly said.
Construction on the vitrification plant, which includes four major facilities and about 20 support facilities, started in 2002.
Two of the major facilities, the Analytical Laboratory and the Low Activity Waste Facility, will be needed for the initial waste treatment. Construction of the laboratory also is largely complete.
The Low Activity Waste Facility has a footprint about the size of one and a half football fields and is about seven stories high.
Its key components are two 300-ton melters. A mixture of low-activity radioactive waste and glass-forming materials will be poured into the melters and heated to 2,100-degrees Fahrenheit.
The glass mixture then will be poured into stainless steel containers.
Containers of vitrified high level radioactive waste are required by federal law to be disposed of in a federal repository. But the containers of low activity waste are planned to be buried in a lined landfill at Hanford.