Preparations made to remove radioactive debris from Hanford reactor basin

May 5, 2021, 12:01PMRadwaste Solutions
Ray Geimer with DOE contractor Central Plateau Cleanup Company, left, shows company president Scott Sax a mock-up of parts of a vertical pipe casing system at Hanford’s Maintenance and Storage Facility. Photo: DOE

Workers at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site near Richland, Wash., recently completed testing a mock-up of a system that will be used to isolate and stabilize about 15,000 pounds of radioactive debris in the site’s K West Reactor spent fuel storage basin.

Mock-ups are used extensively at Hanford to train workers and test equipment before starting work in a radiological environment. Processing of the radioactive basin debris using the system is expected to begin this summer, the DOE announced on May 4.

“Stabilizing and removing debris is one of the final steps leading to removing water from and demolishing the basin,” said Mark French, project and facilities division director for the DOE’s Richland Operations Office. “Installing this system will allow us to do the work needed to complete cleanup activities in Hanford’s K West Area.”

The work: Waste material—such as contaminated tools, scrap metal, and fuel canister lids—was left in the K West Reactor Basin for 60 years of fuel storage operations. Now, the material will be placed into baskets, washed, and remotely loaded into 4-foot-diameter, 22-foot-tall tubes—called vertical pipe casings—installed in the basin. The partially filled casings will then be drained and filled with an engineered grout to stabilize the waste. After the basin has been drained and filled with grout, an auger will blend the contents of the pipe casings to prepare the material for removal and packaging during basin demolition. The packaged waste will be characterized to identify the appropriate disposal path.

Previous work: The work to stabilize the debris follows the removal of 35 cubic yards of sludge from the K West Reactor’s 1.2-million-gallon water-filled basin in September 2018. The highly radioactive sludge, which consisted of sand, dirt, and corrosion products from uranium fuel, among other materials, was transferred to Hanford’s T Plant for safe interim storage.

The K West Reactor, along with its sister K East Reactor, were built side-by-side beginning in the early 1950s. They operated for more than 15 years before being shut down in 1970 and 1971.

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