Shay DeWitt, nuclear chemical operator, left, and Mike Garza, field work supervisor, give a thumbs-up during the first day of sludge retrieval on June 12.
Shay DeWitt, nuclear chemical operator, left, and Mike Garza, field work supervisor, give a thumbs-up during the first day of sludge retrieval on June 12.

RICHLAND, Wash. – EM's Richland Operations Office (RL) and its contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) have begun removing highly radioactive sludge from temporary storage near the Columbia River to a more secure long-term storage location near the center of the Hanford Site.

   “Our top priority is safety as we remove this highly contaminated sludge from the basin near the Columbia River. It is some of the most hazardous material at Hanford, so moving it away from the river to safe storage in a robust engineered facility in the center of the site significantly reduces risk,” RL Manager Doug Shoop said.

   The material was created when irradiated fuel rods stored in the 105-K West Basin began to deteriorate years after plutonium production at Hanford stopped in the 1980s. It is a mixture of tiny fuel corrosion particles, metal fragments, and dirt that accumulated over time. A total of 35 cubic yards of sludge sits in the basin, which is approximately equal to the volume of a 20-foot-long cargo-shipping container.

A worker inside the 105-K West Reactor Basin operates a sludge removal equipment control panel during the transfer of the mixture out of the basin.
A worker inside the 105-K West Reactor Basin operates a sludge removal equipment control panel during the transfer of the mixture out of the basin.

   Workers spent years developing the sludge removal system in the Maintenance and Storage Facility (MASF), according to Ray Geimer, vice president for CHPRC’s sludge removal project. The MASF contains a mockup of the 105-K West Basin where workers master the tools and procedures for operations. The sludge is currently stored in that basin. 

   “The mockup at the Maintenance and Storage Facility, where we tested all of the equipment and processes that will be used to remove the sludge, was critical to the preparations that have brought us to this point,” Shoop said.

Workers in the control room monitor the beginning of transferring sludge out of the K West Basin on the Hanford Site.
Workers in the control room monitor the beginning of transferring sludge out of the K West Basin on the Hanford Site.

   Now that sludge removal has begun, workers will pump it to an adjacent building known as the 105-K West Annex. There, crews will package and prepare the mixture for transfer to T Plant, a nuclear facility at the center of the site that was modified for safe storage of the sludge. Some of T-Plant’s safety features are secondary containment basins, leak detectors, and vents to keep the containers in a safe configuration.

   Sludge removal is expected to be complete in 2019.