WTP makes major progress in 2013

27 March 2013

The Bechtel National Inc. team designing, building, and commissioning the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) reported several major accomplishments in 2013.

Since 2000, Bechtel National has been designing, building, and commissioning the world’s largest radioactive waste treatment plant, for the U.S. Department of Energy. When completed, the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, in southeastern Washington state, will process and stabilize 56 million gallons (212 million liters) of radioactive and chemical waste left over from World War II and Cold War weapons production. The plant will use vitrification technology, blending waste with glass-forming materials and heating the mixture a bit beyond molten-lava temperatures. In glass form, the waste is stable and impervious to the environment, and its radioactivity will safely dissipate over hundreds to thousands of years.

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Sunrise at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant project, in southeastern Washington state.

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Paul De La Paz, medical case lead, stands near WTP's Pretreatment Facility. At 12 stories high, the Pretreatment Facility will be the largest of WTP's four major nuclear structures that will process radioactive waste. The facility will separate high-level from low-activity radioactive waste.

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Mac Sanvictores, mechanical systems lead, reviews documents near the High-Level Waste Vitrification Facility, another of the major structures at WTP.

In 2013, WTP teams finished placing structural steel up to the 77-foot (23.5-meter) level of the High-Level Waste Facility, which will be six stories high. The facility rests on a 6-foot- (1.8-meter-) thick, steel-laced concrete foundation, with walls measuring up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick.

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Employees walk along pipe racks between WTP’s glass former silos and its Low-Activity Waste Facility.

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A subcontractor crosses a platform above the low-activity waste melters.

The slurry of glass-making materials and waste will be fed to melters in both the High-Level Waste and Low-Activity Waste Facilities, where it will be heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,149 degrees Celsius). In the High-Level Waste Facility, the mixture will be poured into stainless steel canisters, where it will cool to a solid glass, or vitrified, form. Waste in the Low-Activity Waste Facility will be placed in containers and sealed.

The High-Level Waste Facility will produce nearly 500 canisters per year. The canisters will be stored on the Hanford Site and later moved to permanent storage at a federal repository. The Low-Activity Waste Facility will produce about 1,100 containers to be stored permanently at the Hanford Site.

Safety achievements: In 2013, WTP employees delivered the best safety performance since the project began in 2000. The team’s total recordable incident rate was down 47 percent from 2012—reaching its lowest level yet. The U.S. Department of Energy also has recommended a three-year extension of the project’s Voluntary Protection Program Star Status.

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Outside the Analytical Laboratory’s hot cell at WTP, where some 10,000 waste samples per year will be analyzed to ensure that they meet environmental storage criteria.

Workers made substantial progress on the Analytical Lab last year, completing all work except installing equipment and materials that will require maintenance or would become obsolete or exposed to potential damage before construction is complete.

  • Team members in front of the plant’s fire service water tanks
  • Workers walk across some of the plant’s pipe racks
  • The plant will ultimately store the vitrified mixture in steel containers, keeping it stable so that its radioactivity safely dissipates
  • A superintendent at the complex, which will immobilize 56 million gallons (nearly 212 million liters) of nuclear and chemical waste
  • The sun rises over one of the plant’s overhead pipe racks
  • The site, established under the Manhattan Project, was decommissioned in 1987 but its waste remains. The plant will safely store it inside stainless steel canisters.
  • On multiple occasions Bechtel has earned Star status from the Department of Energy’s Voluntary Protection Program, which recognizes outstanding achievement in safety and health
  • The plant’s High-Level Waste Facility will annually vitrify nearly 500 canisters worth of waste, while the Low-Activity Waste Facility will produce about 1,100 containers each year
  • The plant will protect the Columbia River and surrounding communities from the waste, which is stored in aging tanks that are corroding and require constant maintenance
  • A worker inspects the plant’s pipes