KENNEWICK — The Hanford site vitrification plant has filled a first container with test glass in a step toward glassifying radioactive waste to allow the permanent disposal of waste — some stored since World War II.
History was made for the Hanford site, according to Brian Hartman, Bechtel National project director for the Waste Treatment Plant, or vitrification plant.
“With this first container of glass produced, we are entering the next era of risk reduction in the Hanford environmental cleanup mission as we work towards the start of tank waste immobilization,” said Brian Vance, Department of Energy manager for the Hanford nuclear reservation.
He signed his name on the side of the container at a celebratory event Monday.
“This milestone demonstrates the progress we can make when the federal government meets its legal and moral obligations,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a video message.
It’s taken more than two decades to reach the latest milestone as DOE and its contractor Bechtel National continue to work to build a massive plant to vitrify much of Hanford’s 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste.
Vitrification will turn the waste into a stable glass form for permanent disposal.
Now the waste, some of it almost 80 years old, is stored in aging underground tanks, many of them prone to leaking.
The nuclear reservation adjacent to Richland in Eastern Washington was used to produce nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.
Construction started on the vitrification plant in 2002, with the first of four melters assembled at the plant 15 years later.
The melter was heated to full temperature of 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit in a test run in July, after an earlier false start when equipment in an electrical cabinet overheated. In August the first glass beads, or frit, was added, and about a month ago the first molten glass was poured into the container, with more glass then melted to continue to fill the container.
It will be the world’s largest radioactive waste melter once commissioning is completed and it begins glassifying radioactive waste, which is expected in 2025.
The Savannah River Site in South Carolina began operating a facility to vitrify less complex radioactive waste in 1996.
The attention to detail that led to the first waste container being filled with glass at Hanford will be used as the second melter at the Hanford vitrification plant is heated up, said Dena Volovar, president of Bechtel National.
Bechtel plans to start heating up the second melter early in 2024.
Hanford waste disposal
DOE initially will operate two melters at the vit plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility to treat some of the least radioactive waste separated out of the Hanford tanks.
It faces a federal court deadline to treat high-level radioactive waste at the vit plant’s High Level Waste Facility, which also will have two melters, by 2033.
Only about 10% of the tank waste is expected to be high-level waste.
“Turning tank waste into robust and stable glass for final disposal is paramount to the protection of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest,” said Suzanne Dahl, a manager with the Washington state Department of Ecology, which regulates Hanford.
The glassified low activity waste will be disposed of at a lined landfill at Hanford in a stainless steel container measuring 7.5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, like the one used for the test pour of glass.
Glassified high-level waste must be sent to a national geographical repository, with a location yet to be determined after work stopped on the Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository.
But because the initial container is filled with just glass, it will be hauled on a specially designed truck and trailer to Chemical Waste Management, an industrial and hazardous waste landfill in Arlington, Ore., for disposal.
Several practice runs of the 250-mile round trip route have been made.