The Department of Energy’s Office of River Protection (ORP) is responsible for safely retrieving and treating Hanford’s tank waste and closing the Tank Farms to protect the Columbia River.
Forty years of plutonium production at the Hanford Site has yielded a challenging nuclear waste legacy — approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive chemical waste accumulated in 177 aging underground storage tanks.
Over the years, some of these tanks are known or are assumed to have leaked. These tanks contain a mix of waste in the form of sludge, salts and liquids, requiring unique waste retrieval and treatment methods.
The diversity of the physical and chemical properties of the waste make the cleanup mission complicated. However, ORP remains focused on treating Hanford’s tank waste as safely and expeditiously as possible.
We insist that work is done as safely as possible. Both ORP and its contractors, Bechtel National and Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), were recognized with the Office of Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Programs “Star” Program status in 2014. Companies with the “star” status have achieved injury and illness rates at or below the national average of their respective industries and show strong worker participation in safety.
One area ORP is heavily focusing on is eliminating the potential for exposures to tank vapors. We recently directed the implementation of Phase 1 of a plan to address the recommendations of the independent Savannah River National Laboratory Tank Vapors Assessment Team. In addition, ORP has also established an expert panel to provide technical assurance that actions taken are effective in protecting workers from potential exposures.
DOE recognizes that reducing the potential for exposures to vapors will require sustained action, continuous improvement and institutionalization of lessons learned.
During the past year, ORP has authorized some important steps forward. ORP granted limited production engineering, and then later full production engineering resumed on the High-Level Waste (HLW) Vitrification Facility at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) Project.
Additionally, the 242-A Evaporator, operated by ORP’s Tank Operations Contractor WRPS, completed a nuclear restart and conducted a processing campaign, removing 791,000 gallons of excess water from Hanford’s double-shell tanks. It was the first operating campaign since October 2010.
Additional waste volume reduction campaigns are scheduled this year to reduce approximately 1.4 million gallons more of liquid in the double-shell tanks.
ORP took a major step forward through the approval of an interface control document, known as ICD-19, which established the tank farm waste feed criteria for the WTP.
The revision to the document streamlined the process from which the waste will be moved from the tanks to the PT Facility. In line with this, ORP initiated contract and project management actions to feed waste directly from the tank farms, consistent with the phased start to the Hanford tank waste treatment mission to turn waste into glass as soon as possible.
Retrieval-wise, WRPS has completed activities in three tanks at Hanford’s tank farms. Retrieval activities have been completed in a total of 14 single-shell tanks, including 13 of the 16 single-shells in C Farm and one tank in S Farm.
Approximately 1.5 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste from C Farm tanks have been retrieved and transferred to double-shell tanks.
ORP, WRPS and Washington state also came to an agreement late last year on the path forward for the removal of waste from the AY-102, the double-shell tank with the primary tank leak into the secondary containment annulus.
This year, ORP hopes to capitalize on last year’s successes and continue to progress even further. For the tank farms, we will continue to maintain them in a safe manner. To this, we will be testing the integrity of our single-shell tanks and double-shell tanks, finish retrieval in the C Farm with the exception of C-105 and prepare the A and AX Farms for retrieval.