RICHLAND – The demolition of a major plutonium plant at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is underway.
Crews started tearing down the Plutonium Reclamation Facility on Tuesday. The demolition comes after 20 years of work to clean out the entire Plutonium Finishing Plant, which is one of Hanford’s most hazardous buildings, the Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday.
The plant operated from 1948 to 1989, processing nearly two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium.
Project Director Tom Teynor said crews are monitoring for radiation during demolition to maintain safety.
“This plant is one of the most hazardous buildings at Hanford, and its demolition will be a major watershed in the Hanford cleanup,” said Alex Smith, nuclear waste program manager for the state Department of Ecology, the regulator on the project.
Department of Energy officials have called the plant the largest and most complex plutonium facility in the nationwide DOE weapons complex.
The Plutonium Finishing Plant for decades made hockey puck-sized tablets of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Work to prepare the plant for demolition started with stabilization of plutonium left in the plant in a liquid solution at the end of the Cold War. More recent work has included cleaning out and dismantling highly contaminated equipment.
The main area of the plant covers 200,000 square feet and stands three stories tall.
Demolition should be completed about July 2017, ending with an explosion to bring down the plant’s ventilation stack.
Most of the building debris will be sent to a lined landfill in central Hanford. But some material will have to be packaged and held at Hanford until it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, a national repository for material contaminated with plutonium.
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