After a busy and productive 2016 at the Department of Energy’s Office of River Protection, I expect more of the same in 2017 as we continue making steady progress on our critical cleanup missions to safeguard the Columbia River and safely process 56 million gallons of waste in Hanford’s 177 underground tanks, a legacy of more than 40 years of plutonium production during World War II and the Cold War.
We’re excited about the strides we’ve made toward our goal of beginning to safely and efficiently vitrify a portion of Hanford’s tank waste as soon as 2022 at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) through an initiative called Direct Feed Low Activity Waste (DFLAW). Vitrification is a process in which the radioactive liquid waste is mixed with glass-forming materials, heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and poured into stainless steel containers where it cools to a solid glass form for long-term storage or disposal.
The DFLAW approach will allow us to get a “head start” on significantly reducing the volume of Hanford’s low activity waste (about 90 percent of the tank waste) while we continue to resolve technical issues associated with the Pretreatment and High-Level Waste facilities at the WTP.
A critical WTP capability to vitrify the low activity waste from the tanks, the Low Activity Waste (LAW) Facility, has seen real progress, with the installation late last year of its last major piece of equipment, the large vessels to support the melters. Construction activities on the LAW Facility are expected to be completed in 2018, which will support our DFLAW approach.
In other progress involving the DFLAW effort, the Low Activity Waste Pretreatment System (LAWPS) is expected to achieve the 60 percent design phase in the first half of 2017. LAWPS is a key facility for DFLAW, and will separate out solids and cesium from the tank waste before sending it to the LAW Facility.
We’ve also successfully resolved three of the eight technical issues that stopped work on the Pretreatment Facility in 2012. Work toward resolution of a fourth issue also is making good progress as testing began on a full-scale mixing vessel prototype in mid-December of 2016.
This is an exciting time at WTP as we expect to see a significant increase in the pace of construction, startup and commissioning activities over the next few years.
On the tanks side, only one of the 16 tanks in the single-shell C Tank Farm remains to be retrieved after C-111 was completed last year. Retrieval activities will continue in the farm’s last tank, C-105, with the goal of completion by the end of 2017. This means we’ve essentially “emptied” some of our oldest single-shell tanks and successfully consolidated that waste into newer and safer double-shell tanks.
Meanwhile, crews have been busy preparing infrastructure and conducting other activities in A/AX farms to support the next single-shell tank retrievals. Taking lessons learned from C Farm will make retrieval efforts in A/AX much more efficient.
We are also on track to complete retrieval from double-shell tank AY-102 to meet our settlement agreement with the state of Washington. I am proud of how safely and efficiently our workforce has managed this project, especially under what were some very challenging weather conditions this winter.
We are very excited to be inspiring individuals in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) community through our Regional STEM Consortium.
ORP has been collaborating with universities, contractors, national laboratories and community leaders to develop the Regional STEM Consortium outreach program in order to attract, engage, educate and inspire future generations about the exciting and meaningful careers in the energy workforce at Hanford. Over the past several months we have been working with WSU Tri-Cities, WSU Pullman and Columbia Basin College to broaden the relationship with ORP and inform the faculty and students of Hanford’s mission and the opportunities available for STEM graduates.
ORP’s hard-working federal workforce and our prime contractors remain committed to stewarding taxpayer dollars to best effect in accomplishing our safeguarding and cleanup missions. We’ve continued progress in maximizing efficiencies with our resources.
This year we will hold our fifth Grand Challenge Competition, which solicits the best ideas in the country to make our mission more efficient and accomplished sooner. Previous winning ideas from the Grand Challenges Competition have resulted in significant improvements to the program.
Our federal and contractor workforce remains committed to our critical mission and are performing at a very good level. I am confident we are executing due diligence in our oversight of the cleanup work, and we remain focused on safety as our bedrock foundation.
Hanford cleanup continues to be highly complex and challenging, but we expect 2017 to be another rewarding and productive year as we move ever closer to completing retrievals in our first tank farm and delivering the waste processing capability so critical to DOE’s work at the site.