A decade after work began on the $12.2-billion waste treatment plant at the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Hanford site in southeastern Washington—set to be the world's largest to treat "mixed" nuclear and chemical wastes—the 65-acre "vit plant" complex still faces uncertainty in cost and design, despite completion of 85% of its engineering and more than 60% of its construction.
The difficulty of designing the facilities needed to turn Hanford's 56 million gallons of liquid radioactive and chemical wastes into vitrified glass has DOE and its main contractor, Frederick, Md.-based Bechtel National, cautious as they stare down a 2013 design completion deadline for the project. Since its start in 2001, the project's price has tripled to the current $12.2 billion. Rising steel prices and technical issues in the final design could push it even higher. A Bechtel spokeswoman says if Congress ends up changing the way it appropriates money for the project, those changes could alter project delivery and affect the final price tag.