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The Art and Science of Welding at the Vit Plant

Hundreds of the best welders from across the country have put their mark on the Department of Energy’s massive Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, or Vit Plant, at the Hanford Site.

The welders have completed tens of thousands of welds throughout the plant’s complex facilities, including 8,000 in the Effluent Management Facility alone. Each weld must meet strict codes and quality standards to ensure WTP will operate safely.

“We’re all assigned numbers that we stencil on our welds,” said Ray Senior, welder and Local 598 union steward. “Everyone knows who did each one on this job. They can walk by and look at them, run a hand over them. We take pride in that, for ourselves and our unions — we want our work to be perfect.”

WTP is nearing the end of its welding story on facilities that will treat Hanford’s low-activity tank waste. The Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) facilities at the Vit Plant are nearly complete. DFLAW is a system of interdependent projects and infrastructure improvements, managed and highly integrated as a program, that must operate together successfully to vitrify, or immobilize in glass, the low-activity waste.

Processing the waste safely is largely reliant on carefully welded vessels and extensive piping configurations running underground and throughout the plant’s infrastructure and facilities. They will carry the waste, water, steam, and other essential materials, and they must be constructed to strict safety and quality standards.

The Vit Plant welders are highly skilled and pre-qualified by their unions before being sent to the project. Even then, they must pass three hands-on tests in the onsite weld shop. After passing the tests, the welders complete training on safety, quality, and WTP’s processes and procedures before they’re ever allowed to touch torch to metal in a facility.

“It’s not unique to have to qualify to weld on a job, but it is unique to have to pass three tests that are as difficult as the ones we have here,” said Steve Davis, Bechtel senior welding field engineer in charge of the weld shop. “In my 40 years at nuclear power plants across the country, I’ve never seen tests as hard as ours.”

- Contributor: Darcy Richardson