Startup testing is complete for two melters, pictured here, inside the Low-Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.
Startup testing is complete for two melters, pictured here, inside the Low-Activity Waste Facility at the Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant team has completed startup testing of two melters and related support systems in the Low-Activity Waste (LAW) Facility, moving a step closer to transforming radioactive and chemical waste from large underground tanks into a glass form safe for disposal.

“We are making positive, sustained progress toward ensuring the plant, our people, and the paper — such as procedures — are ready to heat up the first melter later this year,” said Project Director Valerie McCain, senior vice president with EM Office of River Protection (ORP) prime contractor Bechtel National, Inc. “Our team is safely and compliantly demonstrating these systems will be ready to support melter heatup and then cold commissioning in 2022.”

After completing testing, the plant’s startup team handed over the two melters and supporting equipment to the plant management team for commissioning. Following a loss-of-power test and melter heatup, operators will feed simulated waste and glass-forming materials into the melters during cold commissioning. A hot commissioning with low-activity tank waste will follow prior to full operations.

“The plant workforce is expected to complete all startup testing in the Low-Activity Waste Facility in the next several weeks,” said Mat Irwin, ORP deputy assistant manager for the plant. “Commissioning of equipment and systems is already underway in the plant’s various facilities, and we’re all gearing up for the loss-of-power test this fall.”

The Low-Activity Waste Facility melters, shown here during delivery and installation in 2010, weigh 300 tons and are designed to vitrify 5,000 gallons of low-activity waste each day — or 1.75 million gallons each year — during full operations.
The Low-Activity Waste Facility melters, shown here during delivery and installation in 2010, weigh 300 tons and are designed to vitrify 5,000 gallons of low-activity waste each day — or 1.75 million gallons each year — during full operations.

The entire Hanford Site is preparing for a shift to 24/7 operations by the end of 2023, when treatment of tank waste using vitrification is scheduled to start as part of EM’s Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) Program. The DFLAW Program is a system of interdependent projects and infrastructure improvements, managed and highly integrated, that must operate together to vitrify the waste.

During vitrification, waste treated near large underground tanks to remove radioactive cesium and solids will be fed directly to the LAW Facility’s melters. The waste and glass-forming materials will be mixed, heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and poured into specially designed stainless-steel containers. The containers will be transported a short distance to the site’s Integrated Disposal Facility.

The 300-ton Hanford melters are each four times larger than the one in operation at EM’s Defense Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Hanford’s LAW Facility is designed to vitrify 5,000 gallons of low-activity waste each day — or 1.75 million gallons each year — during full operations after hot commissioning. Startup testing is complete on about 75% of the facility’s 94 systems, which have been turned over to the plant management team for commissioning.

Information on the commissioning process, including a loss-of-power test and melter heatup, is available on the Journey to Melter Heatup website.

The plant facilities can be viewed using the self-guided Hanford Virtual Tour.