Hanford lab upgrades for hot work and waste treatment

April 5, 2024, 7:01AMUpdated April 5, 2024, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions
Upgrades are under way at the Hanford Site's 222-S Laboratory, including replacing the Cold War-era windows in the labs hot cells. Photo: DOE)

Upgrades are underway at the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site to prepare its 222-S Laboratory to treat tank waste under the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) program.

Operated by contractor Navarro-ATL, the lab is the primary on-site facility for analyzing radioactive samples to support Hanford’s risk-reduction and tank-waste operations.

“Multiple contractors and facilities are working as a single enterprise to prepare for treating tank waste 24/7 and progressing risk-reduction projects,” said Delmar Noyes, assistant manager for Tank Waste Operations at the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.

Improvements: Navarro-ATL is upgrading the radiation containment rooms—or hot cells—that protect lab personnel while they receive and analyze radioactive waste samples. The lab analyzes air, liquid, soil, sludge, and biological samples.

The hot cells are square enclosures with thick walls. Workers look through windows with multiple layers of leaded glass, some as thick as five inches. The glass layers create a “sandwich” with mineral oil in the middle that clarifies the view inside. Manipulators are used to handle samples and equipment inside the hot cells.

Some of the windows have begun leaking oil due to their age, requiring upgrades. The job of replacing the damaged windows with new non-oil-filled units that have an extended life of about 20 years is currently in progress. To date, four of the 10 heavy windows have been replaced.

Tight fit: Since the hot cells contain radiation, it’s no small feat to remove multiple windows weighing approximately 11,000 pounds from a contaminated area, disassemble the windows, and maneuver them through a confined pathway for removal. The team rolled in the replacement window, placed them in a containment tent, and then lifted them into place.

In preparation for the project, multiple tools were used to analyze the hazards, including worker feedback. Mock-up demonstrations were conducted with the window vendor and proficiency demonstrations.

Navarro-ATL will continue replacing hot cell windows at the 222-S Laboratory through the summer.

Quote: “Safely replacing the hot cell windows is an important project for the laboratory to maintain mission support,” said Will Pickett, laboratory projects director. “We also balance this work with analytical priorities in the same facility, because samples are being received while this project is underway.”

A bit of history: The 222-S Lab was built in the 1950s to support plutonium production and was converted to a high-level waste laboratory in the 1990s, following the Cold War.

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