Five of the major support buildings for the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site’s Vit Plant have moved beyond construction, startup and testing to commissioning.

The Dept. of Energy’s largest-ever waste cleanup project, located in southeast Washington, aims to turn 56 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste stored in underground tanks since World War II—the result of more than four decades of plutonium production—and use a vitrification process to turn the waste into vitrified glass for long-term safe storage.

To do so, Bechtel National Inc. continues to build the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, dubbed the Vit Plant. To move along the delayed process on a $16.8-billion project, officials settled on a the Direct Feed Low-Activity Waste plan that allows the completion of a low-activity waste treatment facility years ahead of the high-level portion of the plant. As part of that project, crews need to complete the low-activity waste plant along with an analytical lab and 20 support structures.

In July, crews finished startup testing of systems for four utility support buildings, in the Balance of Facilities, which were handed over for commissioning. As engineers and construction crews finish all, or specific portions of plant systems, the systems move to the startup phase. After verification and testing wrap up on systems, the buildings move from to the commissioning phase to ensure they are fully calibrated and ready to support future plant operations.

Five major support buildings—Water Treatment Building, Main Site Electrical Switchgear Building, BOF Electrical Switchgear Building, Fire Water Pump House and Non-Radioactive Liquid Waste Disposal System—have all moved into commissioning, the final step before operations.

“In terms of momentum for the project, this is a step change in our capability to complete utility infrastructure startup and testing,” Rick Homes, Vit Plant site director and Waste Treatment Completion Co. general manager, says in a statement. “We now have permanent plant electricity and water.”

Overall, the Balance of Facilities contains 20 buildings and 56 systems, including electrical power distribution, backup power, water purification, compressed air, steam, communication and control and fire-water systems. Of the 56 systems, 26 have successfully completed startup and testing and have transitioned to the commissioning phase. Twenty-one systems remain in startup and nine are nearing the final stages of construction.

A court-ordered milestone for the Direct Feed Low-Activity Waste chain to function is set for 2023, although Bechtel hopes to reach that milestone sooner.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.