Inorganic Chemistry Supervisor Katherine Keltner, left, and Laboratory Training Specialist Stephanie Servi work with scientific instruments inside the Analytical Laboratory at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.

RICHLAND, Wash. – The first team of chemists is setting up shop at EM Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP), marking another step toward startup of the Direct-Feed Low-Activity (DFLAW) system.

The chemists will perform the first scientific work inside the plant’s Analytical Laboratory to support starting the treatment of Hanford tank waste by the end of 2023 via DFLAW.

The laboratory’s key function is to confirm that glass produced by the Low-Activity Waste (LAW) vitrification facility meets regulatory requirements and standards. During waste treatment operations, laboratory staff will analyze approximately 3,000 process samples annually to confirm a high-quality glass product and good process controls. Analyses will also confirm the correct glass-former “recipe” needed to produce a consistent glass form.

“Our Analytical Laboratory is a key component of meeting regulatory requirements for tank waste treatment,” said Tom Fletcher, WTP federal project manager and DFLAW program manager for EM’s Office of River Protection. “The work to develop analytical processes, procedures, and methods is an important step to being ready to treat low-activity waste and preparing the workforce for the upcoming commissioning phase.”

Over the next 18 months, more employees are expected to be hired, trained at an offsite lab, and then transferred to the Analytical Laboratory.

“The chemists represent another group of permanent positions to support plant commissioning, along with 95 commissioning technicians currently working in the control room of the plant’s Low-Activity Waste Annex and throughout the plant,” said Valerie McCain, a principal vice president and project director for WTP contractor Bechtel National, Inc.

Construction is finished for the Analytical Laboratory at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.
Construction is finished for the Analytical Laboratory at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.

The chemists prepared for their transition to Hanford by first honing their skills and instruments at a smaller-scale offsite lab at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington.

During the past year, the laboratory team collaborated with WTP engineers to analyze glass made from a slurry of low-activity waste simulant and glass-forming materials. This same analytical method will verify the glass vitrified in the LAW Facility meets DOE standards.

Long considered one of the most formidable cleanup challenges at Hanford, DOE is advancing toward achieving a cleanup commitment that has been decades in the making — vitrifying Hanford’s tank waste through the DFLAW process. “Direct-feed” means waste is separated at a double-shell tank farm to remove the more radioactive portion so that the less radioactive waste can be fed directly to the LAW Facility.

Arrival of chemists at the Analytical Laboratory marks the latest step forward for the DFLAW system. This builds upon other DFLAW progress this year including: installation of lab equipment, several upgrades to support the underground waste tanks’ transformation to new digital automation systems, utility support infrastructure upgrades necessary for tank waste treatment, opening key DFLAW facilities to the commissioning workforce, placement of an 111-ton electrical powerhouse and two massive processing vessels for the Effluent Management Facilitysubstantial completion of engineering, procurement, construction, and transition to the startup testing phase for DFLAW facilities, worker training as DFLAW transitions to commissioning and startup, and work to prepare the tank farms to feed DFLAW facilities.