As Bechtel and URS build the world’s largest vitrification facility to safely dispose of nearly 56 million gallons of liquid and semisolid nuclear and chemical waste at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State they have created a way to let visitors in on the process. Well, at least virtually.
The new virtual tour—available via the link here—offers a 360-degree online interactive tour for a chance to better understand the complex and undertaking of constructing the low-activity waste (LAW) vitrification plant that will mix liquid radioactive waste with glass-forming materials and heating them in a high-temperature melter. This “liquid glass” will then get poured into stainless steel containers for cooling before being permanently and safely disposed. Two 300-ton melters heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit and sized to 20 ft by 30 ft and 16 ft high will be used in the LAW facility to vitrify up to 80 percent of the 56 million gallons of hazardous waste currently stored in underground tanks at Hanford. The glass mixture will then be poured into stainless steel containers, which are 4 ft in diameter, 7 ft tall and weigh more than seven tons.
The virtual tour begins with views of the Hanford Site and the plant’s facilities. It showcases the inside of the LAW facility, including its two waste melters that are the largest in the world, its process cells and the components of its exhaust treatment system. The tour highlights many of the support structures being built on the 65-acre construction site not otherwise open to the general public. Each tour stop includes information on the facilities, their components and their role in the vitrification process.
The LAW facility is 330 ft long and 240 ft wide, approximately the size of one-and-a-half football fields. It is seven stories—90 ft—tall. It will take 28,500 cubic yards of concrete, 6,200 tons of structural steel, 103,000 linear feet of piping, 843,000 ft of electrical cable and 943,500 pounds of heating and ventilation ductwork to construct.
The plant is scheduled to start processing low-activity waste in 2022, followed by full operation, including high-level waste processing, in 2036. When completed, the plant will be the world’s largest and most technically sophisticated radioactive waste treatment plant. The 65 acres will have a pretreatment facility and both a low-activity waste and high-level waste vitrification plan. An analytical laboratory makes up the fourth major building on a site that will include operations and maintenance buildings, utilities and offices.
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