Construction of low activity waste facility near completion at nuclear waste site

The completion of construction moves the facility closer to be able to process the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that is stored in underground tanks at the site.

January 11, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Jan. 7 that workers have substantially completed construction of the low activity waste facility at the Hanford Vit Plant in Mesa, Washington.

The completion of construction, which was performed by Bechtel National Inc. (BNI), moves the facility closer to be able to process the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that is stored in underground tanks at the site.

The low activity waste facility has been under construction for 18 years. Along with other facilities constructed at the site, the low activity waste facility will serve to process waste via the direct-feed low-activity waste (DFLAW) approach. Through this approach, radioactive waste will be converted to glass where it can be disposed of safely through a process known as vitrification. 

“The department is committed to the shared goal of initiating tank waste treatment at Hanford via DFLAW,” DOE Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes says. “This progress marks a tremendous leap forward for the Hanford workforce and the Tri-Cities community as we drive closer to a new era of tank waste treatment at Hanford.”

“The focus on solutions combined with a world-class workforce on the ground has led to results for the tank waste mission and beyond,” DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar says. “The impacts of this DFLAW achievement coupled with the overall progress of the past four years position Hanford for success throughout the decade ahead.”

To date, engineering, procurement and construction has been completed on 17 facilities at the Hanford waste treatment plant, which will be used in the DFLAW approach. Through this approach, pretreated waste from Hanford tanks will be piped to the low activity waste facility where it will be vitrified, or immobilized in glass. The facilities include the analytical laboratory, effluent management facility and 14 support structures consisting of electrical power, backup power, water purification, compressed air, steam, communication and control, and fire water systems. These facilities are now in the start-up, testing and commissioning phases to prepare for operations, including heating up large melters that will vitrify millions of gallons of low-activity tank waste.

The DFLAW focus now shifts to preparing for the start of cold commissioning of the low activity waste facility where a waste-like simulant will be run through the facility to test systems, plant monitoring, and management of systems.