Crews at the U.S. Energy Dept.’s Hanford nuclear-waste cleanup complex in eastern Washington are reactivating a 45-year-old site crane to remove close to 200 waste tanks, each three to 22 ft long, that are contaminated with plutonium. DOE contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. opted to restore the crane as the safest approach to extract the so-called “pencil tanks,” thinly shaped to prevent uncontrolled plutonium releases during the site’s Cold War-era atomic weapons production.
The 5-ton bridge crane, used to build in 1963 the tanks’ enclosing plant, the Plutonium Reclamation Facility, will lift them to a nearby maintenance yard. Working through glove boxes, workers will cut tanks by hand into smaller pieces, says a CH2M Hill spokesman. These will be enclosed in steel and PVC containers and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for disposal. Tank contamination makes it too dangerous to remove tanks in place while Hanford’s 60-building Plutonium Finishing (PFP) plant complex is demolished.
CH2M Vice President David Del Vecchio says the $36-million tank removal effort should last until spring 2012. Workers also vacuumed the facility floor to remove 1,800 grams of residual plutonium. He says crews will demolish the plant to slab-on-grade by 2013, three years ahead of schedule.