The presence of power marks a significant milestone in the creation of a major new structure at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site in southeast Washington state.

As Bechtel and URS move forward on building the world’s largest vitrification facility to safely dispose of nearly 56 million gallons of liquid and semisolid nuclear and chemical waste at Hanford, the sheer logistics of the structures on site mean that some of the more basic milestones prove worthy of celebration.

Safely bringing permanent power to Building 87, the primary electrical switchgear building at the 65-acre WTP construction site, was the most recent of those milestones for Bechtel. The installation of a permanent energy supply occurred when the initial breaker was closed from a substation on the Hanford Site connecting site power to the WTP electrical distribution system. The same morning three remaining breakers were closed and startup test engineers began system testing of Building 87’s electrical components.

“I’m very pleased to see the progress that continues at the WTP,” says Bill Hamel, assistant manager in charge of the WTP at the DOE’s Office of River Protection. “This accomplishment is the culmination of a lot of hard work by the Bechtel and DOE teams.”

The plant’s four major nuclear facilities and 21 infrastructure systems and facilities have been operating on temporary power, which is typical for buildings under construction. As the remaining construction for the infrastructure facilities moves toward completion, the facilities will be properly tested and then provided additional permanent utilities, such as water, compressed air, steam and fire protection.

The successful completion of all infrastructure facilities will enable the plant to operate the WTP’s Low Activity Waste Facility and the Analytical Laboratory. The lab is currently 95 percent complete and construction of the Low Activity Waste Facility should wrap in mid-2018 with waste treatment beginning in 2022.

“Energization of Building 87 represents the transition from temporary construction-phase utilities to permanent utilities that will operate the Vit Plant,” says Peggy McCullough, Bechtel project director. “We are on track and moving swiftly.”

Bechtel, the contractor in charge of the plant, will use vitrification to immobilize millions of gallons of chemical and radioactive waste currently stored in Hanford’s 177 underground tanks by turning the waste into glass.

McCullough says the pace of construction, startup and commissioning will increase considerably over the next few years.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.