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). 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.