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Hanford nuclear site study considers waste options

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 3, 2019

Associated Press

RICHLAND – A federal government study has analyzed options for treating waste at a decommissioned nuclear site in Washington state.

The National Academies of Sciences issued a report concerning ways to treat radioactive material at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, the Tri-City Herald reported Monday.

The draft analysis considered three ways to treat the waste at a $17 billion plant that is under construction.

The report says vitrifying or glassifying the waste would be considerably more expensive than other options.

The options include expanding the plant or finding supplemental treatments to provide additional capacity by 2034.

The site’s 179 underground tanks store 56 million gallons of waste.

Hanford was built during World War II and made plutonium for U.S. nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The study of treatment options prepared under the leadership of the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina is a good starting point for making a decision on how to treat millions of gallons of Hanford low-activity radioactive waste, the National Academies of Sciences committee said in its analysis.

But the report, which is only in draft form so far, does not yet provide the complete technical basis needed to support a final decision on a treatment approach, nor does it clearly lay out a framework of decisions to be made among treatment technologies, waste forms and disposal locations, the committee concluded.

Among the report’s findings was that vitrification, grouting waste into a concrete-like form or using “fluidized bed steam reforming” to turn it into ceramic-like particles are each potential options.

But grouting and steam reforming would be significantly less expensive, it found.

If the vitrification plant were expanded, the cost would be $20 billion to $36 billion, according to the report reviewed by the commission.

Grouting could cost $2 billion to $8 billion and steam reforming could cost $6 billion to $17 billion.

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