The Waste Treatment & Immobilisation Plant (WTP) at the US Hanford Site has produced the initial container of test glass as workers commission the first of two large melters at the plant’s Low-Activity Waste (LAW) Facility, according to the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM).

“With the first container of test glass produced, we are entering the next era of risk reduction in the Hanford environmental cleanup mission as we work towards the start of tank waste immobilisation,” Hanford Site Manager Brian Vance said. “This achievement represents a significant step towards a cleaner and more sustainable future."

Bechtel National, which is designing, building and commissioning the plant for the EM Office of River Protection, welcomed the achievement. Brian Hartman, Bechtel, senior vice president and project director for the plant, said: “It stands as a testament to the unwavering dedication and the hard work of our incredible partners and team.”

Two 300-tonne melters inside the LAW Facility at the WTP are the heart of the vitrification process, which will immobilise the tank waste in glass. During vitrification, treated waste will be fed to the LAW Facility’s melters. The waste mixed with frit is be poured into specially designed stainless-steel containers, which will then be moved a short distance to the Integrated Disposal Facility for disposal.

The Hanford Site is home to approximately 56m gallons of radioactive tank waste stored in 177 underground tanks, representing one of DOE’s largest environmental risks and most complex challenges. The tank waste is a result of nearly five decades of plutonium production during World War II.

Earlier this year, EM and Bechtel finished heating up the first of two melters and in August, Hanford crews started making glass after workers poured the first batches of frit into the melter. By early September, the first molten pool of glass was created in a commissioning process that led to filling the first container with test glass recently at the plant. This is a major step toward future immobilization of low-activity tank waste from Hanford’s underground tanks in a glass form for disposal.

“Turning tank waste into robust and stable glass for final disposal is paramount to the protection of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest. Today we celebrate Energy [DOE] completing the first test glass made by a state-of-the-art melter – the largest of its kind in the world,” said Suzanne Dahl, Tank Waste Treatment section manager with the Washington Department of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program. “We look forward to completion of additional testing, and finally to vitrification of actual tank waste.

Lessons learned from the first melter heat-up have been integrated into plans to heat up the second melter in the near future. The frit for this project is provided by Richland-based Fluid Controls and Components.