Hanford

After 17 years of construction, part of Hanford vit plant is done

World’s largest plant to treat radioactive waste being built at Hanford

The Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant, has been under construction at the Hanford nuclear reservation since 2002. It will treat up to 56 million gallons of waste for disposal.
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The Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant, has been under construction at the Hanford nuclear reservation since 2002. It will treat up to 56 million gallons of waste for disposal.

There’s something different about the look of some Hanford vitrification plant workers.

After 17 years of construction on the massive plant to treat radioactive waste for disposal, some of the workers are no longer sporting hard hats.

A relatively small, but important, part of the plant is finished.

Construction of the control room in an annex of the Low Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford nuclear reservation plant is done.

Plant workers will now use the room to bring the plant’s systems online for treating nuclear waste.

The $17 billion plant is required by a federal court consent decree to start treating the least-radioactive waste in Hanford’s underground tanks by 2023.

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Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., toured the control room at the Low Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford nuclear reservation’s vitrification plant. Courtesy Rep. Dan Newhouse

The site hear Richland has 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste left from production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

A ceremony for the 20,000-square-foot , two-story annex that houses the new control room was held Monday, with Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, on hand for the official opening.

Control room used for startup

“The control room is the operations center of the Low-Activity Waste Facility,” said Brian Vance, DOE Hanford site manager.

“By moving into the annex, we have the capability to monitor and control completed systems inside the 14 support buildings,” he said.

Those buildings include the steam plant, compressor plant and water treatment facility, he said.

It also is being used to do startup and testing activities for the Low Activity Waste Facility and the Analytical Laboratory, both among the four major facilities at the plant.

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Hanford vitrification plant workers monitor systems inside a computerized control room in the recently completed annex of the plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility. Courtesy Bechtel National

“We are getting closer to making low-activity waste glass,” said Valerie McCain, Bechtel National project director for the vitrification plant.

The opened control room allows the commissioning team, which includes workers who likely will become part of the team that operates the plant, to be in a single, central location for daily work activities.

Initially, low activity radioactive waste will be separated out of the tank waste and turned into a stable glass form.

Resolution of technical issues related to handling high level waste is expected to delay the start of treatment of that waste, possibly until 2033.

Now workers are coordinating a sequenced construction, startup and commissioning approach for each of the plant’s individual systems.

The Low Activity Waste Facility alone contains the vitrification process, mechanical handling, utility and air supply systems.

Crews have begun startup activities as 72 of 92 of the facility’s systems are undergoing verification that they are complete, tested and in safe working order.

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The Low Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant is one of four large facilities that make up the treatment plant. A two-story annex on the building houses a control room. Courtesy Bechtel National

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.
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