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A conceptual illustration shows an outdoor storage area where large concrete casks designed to hold radioactive cesium and strontium capsules will be placed in a safe, compliant configuration at the Hanford Site.
A conceptual illustration shows an outdoor storage area where large concrete casks designed to hold radioactive cesium and strontium capsules will be placed in a safe, compliant configuration at the Hanford Site.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Work is progressing on many fronts toward transferring 1,936 highly radioactive cesium and strontium capsules to safer, dry storage at the Hanford Site.

Check out this video to learn more about the advancements on this critical risk reduction project.

Workers with EM Richland Operations Office (RL) contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) recently broke ground at the site of the future dry cask storage area. And at the nearby Maintenance and Storage Facility, construction continues on a mock-up designed to replicate conditions at the Waste Encapsulation Storage Facility (WESF), where the capsules are currently in a safe configuration in an underwater basin. The mock-up will allow workers to safely train and test equipment before performing the work in a radiological environment.

“The project team came together to take this idea and advance it from a conceptual design to final design, and now we’re to the point where the project’s coming to life,” said Kalli Shupe, CHPRC vice president for the waste and fuels management project.

A conceptual illustration depicts a large concrete cask designed to hold radioactive capsules.
A conceptual illustration depicts a large concrete cask designed to hold radioactive capsules.

The capsules have been stored at WESF since the mid-1970s. Cesium and strontium were removed from waste tanks at Hanford to reduce the temperature of the waste inside the tanks. Transferring the capsules to dry storage in stainless steel and concrete casks reduces the risk of a radioactive release in the unlikely loss of water from the basin.

The cask storage system is designed for “passive cooling” by the airflow within the cask. Cool, clean air is drawn into the cask and warm air goes out, without the need for fans or mechanical equipment. Since the capsules are sealed within the cask, they do not come into contact with the cooling air. The same passive cooling approach is used for dry storage of used nuclear fuel at other locations. These concrete and steel casks also provide robust radiation shielding to protect workers and eliminate the possibility of a release of radioactive material.

Transferring the capsules to dry storage will also enable the planned deactivation of the WESF facility and a significant reduction in operating costs.

“DOE estimates moving the capsules to dry storage will save more than $6 million per year in operating costs,” said Gary Pyles, RL project director for the WESF project. “The estimated cost of dry storage at the cask storage area is less than $1 million per year.”

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