ORP, Bechtel collaborate on plan for completing Hanford’s HLW Facility

May 22, 2024, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions
Lourdes Legaspi, engineering automation supervisor (center) and her team are designing pipe and equipment components for the Hanford Site’s partially completed HLW Facility. A collaboration between the DOE and Bechtel National set a foundation for requirements engineers will follow in continuing the design of the facility. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management announced that its Office of River Protection (ORP) recently created a plan with contractor Bechtel National for completing the High-Level Waste Facility at the Hanford Site’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, also known as the Vit Plant.

According to DOE-EM, the ORP and Bechtel have laid out a strategy for completing the design and construction of the partially built HLW Facility, which is intended to immobilize in glass millions of gallons of radioactive and chemical waste currently being stored in large underground tanks at the Hanford Site in Washington state.

“We have a strong plan on what technical and programmatic requirements will drive the path to completing Hanford’s high-level waste treatment mission,” said Tom Teynor, Hanford HLW Facility project manager. “The collaboration is an example of how EM and its contractors can partner to produce positive outcomes.”

Felice Presti, Bechtel principal vice president and project manager for HLW, added, “Achieving alignment early reduces uncertainties, supports cost and schedule estimating and planning for future work, and it serves as a foundation for success going forward.”

Background: Bechtel was first contracted to build the Vit Plant, including the HLW Facility, in 2000. The HLW Facility was to receive Hanford’s high-level tank waste, the result of plutonium processing at the site, and immobilize it glass through vitrification. During construction, however, significant technical challenges—ranging from ventilation concerns to preventing explosions during waste treatment—were identified in the facility’s design, prompting the DOE to pause construction in 2012.

Since then, the DOE has adopted a phased approach to treating waste called the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) program, which will see low-activity waste vitrified first using the Vit Plant’s Low-Activity Waste (LAW) Facility, which is currently undergoing cold commissioning.

The plan: According to the DOE, the strategy developed by the ORP and Bechtel team incorporates lessons learned from the engineering, procurement, construction, and commissioning of the plant’s LAW Facility and other facilities in DOE-EM’s DFLAW program.

A key aspect of the plan is to complete design work of the HLW Facility before doing major construction work. The team also focused on determining criteria for accepting waste from Hanford's tank farms, using additional mock-ups or simulated work environments with no radiological or chemical hazards, and involving experienced operators early in planning.

According to DOE-EM’s strategic vision for 2024–2034, construction of the HLW Facility is to be substantially completed by 2030, with cold commissioning beginning in 2032. Like the LAW Facility, the HLW Facility will mix tank waste with glass-forming materials in two large melters operating at 2,100°F. The mixture will be poured into stainless steel containers for interim safe storage prior to permanent disposal.

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