Who will operate the $17 billion Hanford plant once it’s done?

The Department of Energy is making plans for a new contract at Hanford — the first to operate the $17 billion vitrification plant under construction at the nuclear reservation.

The toxic waste glassification plant won’t be finished for several years but DOE announced this week that the company operating it will be different than the contractor running the nuclear waste tank farm.

A new contract covering vit plant operations and maintenance will be awarded, likely sometime after DOE finishes deciding five other major contracts this year and next.

Bechtel, with subcontractor AECOM, holds a contract to build and start up the plant to turn up to 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

But it is not under contract to operate the plant.

The waste is left from the past processing of uranium fuel irradiated at Hanford reactors to chemically separate plutonium for use in the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

DOE is required by the federal court to have the plant ready to treat some waste by 2023. But Bechtel is expected to continue working at the vitrification plant until 2036, the court-set deadline for having the plant fully operational.

A separate contractor will be hired to operate and maintain the $17 billion vitrification plant under construction at Hanford, according to the Department of Energy. Courtesy Bechtel National

The tank farm contract will focus on emptying underground single shell tanks into newer double shell tanks, closing emptied single shell tanks and feeding waste to the vitrification plant for treatment.

Currently the contract is held by Washington River Protection Solutions, owned by AECOM and Atkins. The current contract was set to expire at the end of September, but DOE granted it an extension of up to a year while a new contract is awarded.

DOE said in its contracting announcement this week that it expects to put out three requests for bids for Hanford contracts in the first three months of 2019.

First will be the request for bids for central Hanford cleanup, followed by the tank farm contract. The third contract will be for work at the 222-S Laboratory.

Capture historic tanks.PNG
The radioactive waste tanks in Hanford C Tank Farm were constructed during World War II. Courtesy Department of Energy

DOE has been working in recent years on awarding five new major Hanford contracts.

The first of those contracts, for occupational medicine services at the site, was awarded to HPM Corp. of Kennewick, DOE announced this week. It is valued at up to $152 million for up to seven years of work.

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The other four planned new contracts to be awarded over the next two years are in various stages of progress.

DOE already has released a request for bids for sitewide services. Sitewide services are now provided by Mission Support Alliance, owned by Leidos and Centerra Group, under a contract that expires May 25.

The proposed new contract, valued at $4 billion to $6 billion over up to a decade, covers services such as utilities, roads, security, land management, information technology and management of the HAMMER training center.

A draft request for bids has been released for a 10-year, $6.5 billion-central Hanford cleanup contract, with similar work now being done by CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

A draft request for bids also has been released for 222-S Laboratory work, with a potential value of $904 million over up to seven years.

A draft request for bids has yet to be released for a new tank farm contract.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.