Fiscal year 2020 marks the sixth consecutive year that the Hanford Site, in southeastern Washington State, has treated more than 2 billion gallons of groundwater to remove contamination from decades of past operations to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
The goal this fiscal year, which ends September 30, is to treat at least 2.4 billion gallons, the Department of Energy reported on September 8.
Consecutive accomplishments: The DOE’s Office of Environmental Management’s Richland Operations Office and contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) have treated an average of 2.4 billion gallons a year for the past five years.
Cline comment: “Protecting the Columbia River continues to drive our groundwater treatment efforts,” said Mike Cline, the Richland Operations Office’s project director for cleanup of soil and groundwater at Hanford. “Over the past decade, we have significantly reduced the areas of contamination near the river.”
Legacy tasks: Hanford workers operate six treatment systems—including its largest, the 200 West Pump and Treat Facility—to remove radioactive and chemical contaminants from groundwater along the Columbia River and an area near the center of the Hanford Site called the Central Plateau. The plateau is where massive chemical processing facilities separated plutonium from fission products from the 1940s through the 1980s and discharged billions of gallons of contaminated liquids to soil disposal sites.
Pandemic impact: The volume of contaminated groundwater from Hanford’s plutonium production hasn’t been the only challenge, according to the DOE. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer workers on site since March.
The DOE noted, however, that its advanced technologies in the treatment facilities make it possible for groundwater treatment to continue largely uninterrupted. Operations managers monitor the systems remotely—meeting social distancing requirements while ensuring the facilities continue to operate during the site’s phased remobilization of operations during the pandemic.
“The reliability of Hanford’s treatment systems and the experience of our team has been instrumental in our ability to consistently meet—and typically exceed—our annual treatment goals,” said Bill Barrett, vice president of CHPRC’s soil and groundwater remediation project.
Bottom line: Hanford has treated more than 23 billion gallons of groundwater and removed almost 600 tons of contaminants since the first groundwater facilities began operating in the mid-1990s, according to the DOE. The treatment systems have removed most of the chromium contamination along the Columbia River and hundreds of tons of nitrates on the Central Plateau, as well as other contaminants of concern such as carbon tetrachloride, uranium, and technetium-99.