A solution to a serious threat
This one-of-a-kind complex will immobilize 56 million gallons (nearly 212 million liters) of liquid and semisolid nuclear and chemical waste, a legacy of World War II and Cold War nuclear weapons production.
At the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site, 177 aging underground tanks store the waste. Some of the tanks date to World War II, when the site was established as part of the Manhattan Project, and 67 have leaked an estimated 1 million gallons (3.8 million liters), threatening the Columbia River, surrounding communities, and residents downstream in the U.S. Pacific Northwest unless the waste is properly treated in a timely fashion. The tanks are corroding and require constant maintenance.
When operational, the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP—also known as the vitrification, or "vit," plant) will blend the radioactive waste with glass-forming materials such as silica and heat the mixture to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,149 Celsius).
The molten material will be poured into stainless steel canisters to cool and solidify in a glass, or vitrified, form. The waste will remain stable and impervious to the environment so that its radioactivity can safely dissipate over hundreds to thousands of years.
Tour the plant
During World War II and throughout the Cold War, southeastern Washington state housed a vast complex of nuclear reactors and processing facilities that produced plutonium for atomic weapons. The Hanford Site was decommissioned in 1987, but its nuclear and chemical waste remains. The Waste Treatment Plant will render it safe in the form of glass logs inside stainless steel canisters.
WTP's High-Level Waste Facility will vitrify each year nearly 500 canisters worth of waste. The canisters, first stored at the Hanford Site, will be stored permanently at a federal repository. WTP's Low-Activity Waste Facility will produce about 1,100 containers per year, to be stored permanently at the Hanford Site.
The complexity of the waste presents unprecedented challenges. Bechtel continues to refine its design to address the results of ongoing reviews by experts from government, academia, national laboratories, and the nuclear industry and to incorporate updated technologies.
For more information about waste vitrification, please visit our Savannah River Site page
See just how big WTP is.
And the economic impact.
Importance of the WTP Mission
Rick Kacich talks about the rigorous standards to which the plant was designed and Bechtel's commitment to reliable and safe operation.