The $16.8-billion Vit Plant project at the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site in southeast Washington has reached a significant milestone with the launch of the full startup testing phase.

Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant is known as either the WTP or Vit Plant, and the Analytical Laboratory turning to the full startup testing signifies the largest facility in the WTP family to reach that milestone. 

“The laboratory is the first major WTP facility to complete systems turnover work,” said Tom Fletcher, WTP project director of the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Office of River Protection, in a statement. “Finishing major construction and turning the laboratory systems over to the startup phase moves us closer to treating radioactive tank waste.” 

With 56 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks, the result of more than four decades of plutonium production, the Vit Plant will take the waste from the tanks and turn it into vitrified glass for long-term safe storage. 

Building the Vit Plant and its multiple buildings and systems, many never before engineered, hasn’t come easy. As Bechtel National Inc. continues to move forward on the Vit Plant construction, the laboratory reaching startup testing aims to verify the equipment and systems are in safe and working order for handover to the commissioning phase. Laboratory systems startup testing is anticipated to finish this year. 

The key function of the lab confirms that all glass produced by the Low-Activity Waste facility — one of two facilities that will produce glass — meets regulatory requirements and standards. Technicians in the lab will analyze approximately 3,000 process samples annually and confirm the correct glass-former recipe needed to produce a consistent glass form. Samples will also be taken throughout the vitrification process to confirm the product. 

In all, the lab includes 34 systems from electrical to mechanical and high-purity gases systems to ventilation. 

“This accomplishment involved many people and teams,” said Valerie McCain, Bechtel principal vice president and WTP project director, in a statement. “It represents the full range of work, including design and engineering, environmental permitting, procurement, construction and many support organizations.” 

As work continues on the Vit Plant and support facilities, Hanford recently received four large corrosion-resistant process vessels to help construct the effluent management facility. The vessels will receive, hold and transfer liquids through the effluent management facility. During the low-activity waste vitrification, secondary liquid waste is generated from the melter off-gas system and during waste transfer pipe flushing. These liquids go to the effluent management facility where excess water is evaporated, and the reaming concentrate is sent back into the vitrification process. 

The vessels range in size and have a combined weight of more than 56 tons with a total capacity of more than 73,400 gallons. The largest of the vessels stands 45 ft tall with a 14-ft dia and weighs 24.5 tons with a 38,000-gallon capacity. They were fabricated by Washington’s Greenberry Industrial, fabricated, welded and tested at facilities in Vancouver, Washington, and Corvallis, Oregon. Installation will occur this spring. 

Now with 12 of 14 Balance of Facilities buildings — support buildings in the Vit Plant process — in either the startup and testing phase or fully operational, the effluent management facility moves closer to testing. 

The Vit Plant aims to start processing low-activity waste by 2022. 

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb