The Department of Energy is putting on hold an environmental study on using natural gas to replace diesel fuel at Hanford’s vitrification plant.
About $6 million has been spent on the environmental impact study.
DOE projected that switching fuel sources could save FROM $527 million to $823 million, depending on the price of fuel.
It also would eliminate the need for 42 truckloads per week of diesel to be delivered to Hanford and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 million tons.
The vitrification plant is expected to use at least 30,000 gallons of diesel a day at full operation to feed boilers that generate steam for heating and radioactive waste processing.
In February 2012, DOE anticipated a draft of the study being released in spring 2013 with a final version ready by fall and a decision on the project possibly made by the end of the year.
“The Department of Energy remains supportive of completing the analyses necessary to consider bringing natural gas onto the Hanford site,” DOE said in a statement this week. But given current cleanup priorities and schedules, it does not plan to pursue the project now.
Not only has the start-up of the vitrification plant been delayed, but Hanford could be facing some tight budget years.
“DOE intends to resume work and complete the (study) in the future,” DOE said in a statement.
The Tri-City Development Council was told the study could be restarted in three to five years and cost another $3 million to complete, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.
However, TRIDEC believes the draft study is all but done and should be released to the public. A draft prepared at Hanford was forwarded to DOE officials in Washington, D.C., nearly a year ago, Petersen said.
Most of the remaining money that would be spent on the study would be for steps such as holding public hearings and gathering comments on the draft and then advancing work on a final document and a decision on the project, according to TRIDEC.
The draft should show whether using natural gas at Hanford is a feasible project, Petersen said.
When DOE announced the environmental impact study in early 2012, it had not yet conceded that the vitrification plant would not be operating by a 2019 deadline.
DOE and the state are in federal court over delays at the plant. The soonest any operations are expected to start is 2022, with treatment of high-level radioactive waste delayed longer as technical issues are resolved.
Natural gas also has been proposed for the Hanford 242-A Evaporator, which reduces the amount of liquid waste being stored until the waste can be processed for disposal. Its boilers are expected to use 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel a day in future operations under current plans.
DOE officials said in early 2011 that it would be continuing to look at other options for natural gas use at Hanford, including switching to natural gas to power some vehicles.
A gas line that is a minimum of 6 inches in diameter has been proposed by DOE. But the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative had asked DOE to consider putting in a larger gas line that could be used for other energy projects.
Cascade Natural Gas would own, build, operate and maintain the pipeline. It said in 2012 that if the project moved forward, construction could begin in 2014 and be finished in six months to a year.
A pipeline about 30 miles long was proposed that would run from a transmission line north of Pasco under the Columbia River to central Hanford. It would cost about $35 million, Cascade Natural Gas said in 2012.
The environmental study was expected to make recommendations on the best place for the pipeline to go under the river.
The project also likely would have required a steam plant to be built near the vitrification plant as a safety measure rather than delivering natural gas to the plant’s campus.
Under the Federal Energy Management Program, savings achieved by using natural gas rather than diesel could be used for upgrades that would improve the energy efficiency of the aging Hanford infrastructure.