Lifting away contaminated portions of the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site’s Plutonium Finishing Plant requires cranes to remove the largest pieces of equipment, dubbed glove boxes.

As work continues at the Dept. of Energy’s nuclear waste site in southeast Washington to demolish the Plutonium Finishing Plant to the slab on grade concrete, a crane lifted out glove boxes, painted bright green for visibility, through an opening created during demolition.

Crews for CH2M Hill Remediation determined it safer and more efficient to lift out large objects, like the glove boxes, during final demolition than to remove them prior to the demolition during the decontamination phase. Glove boxes and other pieces of contaminated equipment will get packaged and prepared for eventual off-site disposal.

“What you see here today is the beginning of the last chapter that started 20 years ago,” says Tom Bratvold, Plutonium Finishing Plant Closure Project vice president, about the long process to clean out and demolish the plant. “Crews have started opening up the ‘big barn’ and will continue until we achieve slab on grade.”

View a Hanford video here.

The plant, known as the PFP, represented the end of the line associated with plutonium production at Hanford. Also known as Z Plant due to the fact that no further Hanford activity related to plutonium production was done after the plutonium had been processed at the plant, it began operations in 1949. At the facility, plutonium that had been extracted in a liquid form from the irradiated fuel rods at Hanford was processed into a solid form. Crews took the plutonium nitrate solution and made solid, hockey-puck sized plutonium buttons and plutonium oxide powder, which could then get shipped to the country’s weapons production facilities. The Hanford plan produced more of these buttons than any other American facility. In addition, the plant also had facilities to recover plutonium that was found on metals, scraps or equipment used in the plutonium production process.

Consisting of more than 60 buildings, the plant represents one of the larger undertakings of demolition as the Hanford cleanup continues. The slab on grade effort decontaminated and demolishes all buildings, including removing debris, leaving just concrete floors. In 2009 the plutonium stored in the plant had been successfully stabilized, packaged and shipped to the Dept. of Energy’s Savannah River Site.

CH2M Hill plans to have the site turned to slab on grade by the end of 2017.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb