The following message was written by Vit Plant Project Director Val McCain. It was originally published by the Tri-Cities Journal of Business in April 2021.
Progress is heating up at Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.
Also known as the vit plant, the project is taking a permanent step forward at the end of this year – heating up our first 300-ton low-activity waste melter.
The melters are the heart of the vitrification process, which will turn Hanford’s waste into a solid glass form for safe storage.
When operational, the melters will be used to combine low-activity waste and glass-forming chemicals at 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit before the mixture is poured into stainless steel containers to cool and solidify. The melters will remain at operating temperature through hot commissioning in 2023 and into long-term operations.
Our progress toward melter heatup and preparing to treat tank waste using the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) approach is possible thanks to the resilience, hard work and dedication of our team. Despite the unprecedented challenges of 2020, we continued to move the project forward.
Just a few of the accomplishments from last year include:
Completed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) facility construction
Completed Effluent Management Facility (EMF) construction
Completed handing over of all 14 utilities and support facilities (balance of facilities) to plant management.
Our team members have adapted and stepped up, never wavering on their commitment to safety and quality. Led by Bechtel National Inc., our team includes Amentum, the Waste Treatment Completion Company and members of the Central Washington Building Trades.
Processing tank waste is just around the corner.
Vit plant facilities and systems continue to be handed over regularly, and our plant operators are in their second year of working 24/7 shifts.
Our final group of commissioning technicians completed their five-month intensive training program in November. They became part of the approximately 140-person commissioning technician team that will operate the vit plant.
Our job site continues to look more like an operating facility, with temporary structures coming down and paved roads going in.
We kicked off 2021 by celebrating the completion of DFLAW facility construction, meaning construction is done on the vit plant facilities needed to start treating tank waste.
Soon after, we announced the Lab was deemed “ready to operate.” This means the facility and its team are prepared to support cold commissioning, when simulated waste is run through the plant to ensure systems are working properly under operating conditions.
We will continue to build momentum this year by demonstrating backup systems will temporarily power the melters in case there is an electricity outage. This is important because once started, the melters need to stay hot until they are replaced at the end of their service life.
After that demonstration, we’ll proceed with heating up the first melter by the end of the year. Other 2021 goals include:
Completing all procedures required for operations, which we achieved in March.
Completing testing of all the components and systems in the Effluent Management Facility, which treats secondary waste from the DFLAW facility.
Completing testing of all the components and systems in the DFLAW facility.
Completing testing of HEPA filters in the Analytical Laboratory.
The vit plant team works closely with our U.S. Department of Energy customer and other Hanford contractors as One Hanford. We collaborate with the Washington State Department of Ecology and regulators to achieve our mission, and we continue to support small businesses in the region, state and the Tri-Cities itself.
Community is more important than ever right now.
Our team continued to step up last year, donating more than $275,000 to local charitable organizations, such as United Way, Junior Achievement and Toys for Tots.
The vit plant was the top local fundraising team for Polar Plunge and Special Olympics last year. This year, they built on that success to become the top fundraising team in the state, raising more than $25,000.
In addition, prime contractor Bechtel National Inc. made corporate donations, including $100,000 to the United Way Covid-19 Response Fund.
As the vit plant continues to drive toward completion, we want to thank the thousands of skilled craft and professionals – current and past – who have worked on achieving this piece of history. We also thank the Central Washington Building Trades and their leadership for being incredible partners over the years.
Each of our team members has brought expertise and helped make this plant a modern marvel that will achieve its mission – cleaning up Hanford’s legacy waste. They have truly been part of One Team and One Hanford and contributed to the achievement of the future milestones we can’t wait to celebrate this year.
In May, the Hanford Vit Plant team finished all startup testing and system handovers for the Effluent Management Facility (EMF), marking its full transition into the commissioning phase. Handing over all systems and areas of the EMF to plant management is a huge step toward treating Hanford’s tank waste.
Progress since construction began on EMF can be seen in a video. The EMF plays a key role in Hanford’s Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) approach to treating tank waste. DFLAW is a system of interdependent projects and infrastructure improvements, managed and highly integrated as a program, that must operate together to vitrify the tank waste, which means immobilizing it in glass. During DFLAW operations, secondary liquid called effluent is generated. This effluent goes to the EMF, where excess water is evaporated from it and transferred to a nearby retention facility.
The EMF includes 77 integrated systems across four buildings. After startup testing for each EMF system was finished, the startup team documented the results, and each system was handed over to the plant management team to initiate commissioning. The commissioning phase ensures the utilities and process systems are integrated and ready to support future plant operations. Read more.
The Vit Plant recently launched a new website that explains the commissioning process, including critical activities such as the loss of power test and melter heatup process.
“We want our key stakeholders and local community to understand the steps being taken to ensure a safe, quality, and effective heatup of the first melter,” said Mat Irwin, Department of Energy Office of River Protection deputy assistant manager for the plant. “We are approaching a 24/7 operational situation at a pace not seen at the Hanford Site in many years. We’re excited to deliver on this commitment to our community.”
The two 300-ton waste melters inside the LAW Facility will heat Hanford’s low-activity tank waste and glass-forming materials to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit and transform, or vitrify, it for safe disposal. The Journey to Melter Heatup website includes information such as:
The many activities that must be completed to enable melter heatup, such as installing key equipment and tuning the exhaust system.
Definitions of common melter heatup terminology.
Key facts such as how many days it takes to bring the melter up to target temperature.
The latest news on progress toward heatup.
For example, initial heatup of the melter takes about 22 days, followed by several days of testing with the addition of glass startup materials that melt at low temperatures, and then another 30 days of feeding in glass-forming materials. Read more.
Team Completes Nearly 5,500 Procedures for Operations
The Vit Plant team has finished creating almost 5,500 step-by-step procedures required for operation of systems and facilities needed for Hanford’s Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) approach.
The team developed the bulk of the procedures for 119 systems, with 37 abnormal operating procedures and six emergency operating procedures covering potential events such as high winds, wildfire, or security issues.
“Most of our team has both U.S. Navy and commercial nuclear experience,” said Shavon Asselin, WTCC operations procedures manager. “Their experience played a major role in completing this goal. I'm proud to be a part of such a driven and talented team.”
Vit Plant contributes to nearly $48,000 raised for Second Harvest
In April, the Vit Plant teamed with other Hanford contractors and labor unions, pulled together for the annual One Hanford Feeding Families Food Drive. Together, they raised nearly $48,000 to help support Second Harvest, the local nonprofit that supplies a network of food banks, meal sites, and other programs to the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities.
In The Details
Featured photo: More Lab Techs Join the Vit Plant
A second slate of 12 laboratory technicians started work at the Vit Plant in April. They join the first class hired in January and will work with chemists, such as this one, to analyze the approximately 3,000 samples of tank waste that will come to the Analytical Laboratory each year. Hanford tank waste samples will be characterized by the lab team throughout the vitrification process to confirm we produce glass that meets regulatory requirements.