Progress Edition

DOE Richland Operations Office and Office of River Protection: Hanford gears up for treating waste while progress across site continues

Work Progressing. Aerial view of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant complex, which is working toward treating waste by 2023.
Work Progressing. Aerial view of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant complex, which is working toward treating waste by 2023. Courtesy DOE Hanford

I’m honored to provide a Hanford Site update this year from my expanded role as the Department of Energy (DOE) manager of both the Richland Operations Office and the Office of River Protection. I am pleased with our progress over the past year and am looking forward to a very productive 2019, as we continue to make great strides on important projects at Hanford.

We are demonstrating our commitment to safely, efficiently and effectively treat tank waste and close Hanford tanks, remediate central plateau and river corridor waste sites and facilities reducing risk to our employees, the public and environment.

The transition to a single manager does not represent a recombination of the offices; rather this will give our DOE team the chance to find new ways to be more efficient as we work to focus as many resources as possible to move the cleanup mission forward. The two offices already share a number of support, security and business service functions very effectively, and a single manager provides us with an enhanced ability to strengthen our teamwork and cooperation both internally and with our contractors.

Continued progress is being made across the site on projects that move highly hazardous materials away from the Columbia River and place nuclear materials in safer, less costly storage, while safely addressing some of the nation’s most complex cleanup challenges. Further, and after nearly two decades of work, we are committed to delivering a major event in the history of the Hanford site as we begin to treat millions of gallons of waste in our large underground tanks in the next few years.

Achieving our multiple missions requires a shift in our culture at Hanford. The startup of Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) operations will require a great degree of coordination and teamwork between the two offices and our contractors. DFLAW represents a site-wide transition because the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) requires not only transfers of waste from Tank Farms, but also requires a robust site infrastructure to support 24/7 operations.

As the recently published Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report made clear, we also need to look at our approach for the Hanford cleanup mission to identify opportunities to safely and effectively reduce the overall duration and cost of our important work. We will continue to work closely with Congress, the Tribes and our regulators and other key stakeholders to leverage safe and cost effective approaches to our common objective to reduce the risks at Hanford for our workforce, the public, and the environment.

We are transitioning our government/industry team culture by working to remove roadblocks to progress and strengthen our relationships to establish the conditions for successful project delivery. Our focus is on continuing safe, efficient and effective operations to capitalize on the incredible work done by many for a long time at Hanford.

DFLAW remains a main focus. We will use a phased feed approach with a tank-side process to send low-activity waste from the tank farms directly to the WTP Low-Activity Waste (LAW) vitrification facility by 2023. The WTP will treat tank waste by mixing it with glass-forming agents in a melter, heating it to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the resulting molten glass mixture will be poured into steel containers for safe storage.

Several critical infrastructure projects this year will support DFLAW, with projects such as the design and beginning of construction of a fire station; rebuilding the road between the WTP and the integrated disposal facility; and upgrading utilities, including electrical, water and information systems.

We continue to make progress on the tank farms. The tank operations contractor completed integrity assessments on all 149 single-shell tanks, implemented measures to increase worker safety with new controls and completed construction of the SX Farm interim barrier. Two campaigns by the 242-A Evaporator have created 525,000 gallons of storage space in double-shell tanks.

Design is underway for the Tank-Side Cesium Removal (TSCR) system, which will separate both cesium and solid materials from Hanford’s tank waste, providing a low-activity waste stream for vitrification in support of DFLAW operations by 2023.

One of our major objectives this year is to complete the transfer of 35 cubic yards of highly radioactive sludge from a reactor basin near the Columbia River to temporary storage in a facility near the center of the Hanford Site. Removing the sludge from the K Area is one of the remaining key cleanup activities in Hanford’s River Corridor, allowing us to remove the basin and reduce annual operating costs by more than $15 million.

Workers have resumed demolition of the less contaminated portions of the Plutonium Finishing Plant with new safety controls in place that have worked well as they removed debris from past demolition efforts over the last few months. We will continue working at a safe and deliberate pace to ensure we are protecting workers, the public and the environment.

The more contaminated sections of the plant, including the former plutonium production lines, will be demolished later in the year after an independent assessment and authorization by DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

We expect once again to exceed our goal of treating nearly 2 billion gallons of contaminated groundwater and remove tons of contaminants, reducing risk to the Columbia River and shrinking the size of contaminated areas, or plumes, of groundwater. The key to our success in treating groundwater will continue to be putting worker innovations into practice and improving treatment systems while keeping them maintained and operating well.

Very soon, workers will complete the injection of engineered grout into the second tunnel at the Plutonium Uranium Extraction (PUREX) facility, protecting the tunnel from collapse. This stabilization action does not preclude future remedial actions or final closure decisions, and the use of grout as void fill has been successful at other projects on the Hanford Site, providing worker, public and environmental protection at a reasonable cost.

DOE is supporting advanced education programs through Columbia Basin College with the WTP Analytical Process Lab, health and safety, nuclear medicine, radiological worker programs, internships and more. We also remain active in our community as our employees donate their time and resources to the Combined Federal Campaign, Feds Feed Families, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Junior Achievement and many more endeavors.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with the dedicated professionals of the Hanford team of federal workers and contractors committed to working together to clean up the legacy of the Hanford Site. We have great people, an achievable plan and enjoy the support of many throughout the country as we work to deliver a safer Hanford, Tri-Cities and our part of the nation.

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