More funding for US Hanford tank waste research & development

16 June 2023

A new $30m investment by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Management Office (EM) will fund research and technology development led by DOE’s national laboratories aimed at better addressing tank waste at the Hanford Site.

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.

“With tank waste at sites like Hanford driving EM’s environmental risk and liabilities, we have a responsibility to evaluate options that could shave decades off the current schedule, reduce project risks and save billions — without sacrificing safety or effectiveness,” said EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White.

The investment in the Hanford tank waste mission is based on priorities outlined in the Hanford Tank Waste R&D Roadmap developed by the Network of National Laboratories for Environmental Management and Stewardship. EM incorporated input from the EM Advisory Board into implementation of the roadmap. The $30m will be used for research to evaluate options and add new tools that could be used to advance the tank waste mission.

“As we keep moving towards immobilising some Hanford tank waste in glass via the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste system, we are also looking at how to develop breakthrough technologies that will improve efficiency, reduce lifecycle cost and accelerate the schedule for the Hanford tank waste mission,” said Ming Zhu, EM senior advisor for laboratory policy.

The targeted investment is consistent with recommendations made by the US Government Accountability Office, National Academy of Sciences, DOE national laboratories and others. It represents one of several steps EM is taking to identify and analyse technologies and other opportunities ensure waste removed from the tanks is treated and disposed of more quickly, driving down risks to workers, the public, and the environment.

EM has solicited proposals from the national laboratories on ideas that could help advance the Hanford tank waste mission in the near term and solutions that could impact the long-term cost and schedule. Focus areas of proposals are to include:

  • waste retrieval, transport and tank closure;
  • pre-treatment;
  • immobilisation and disposal;
  • secondary waste treatment; and
  • crosscutting research with the potential to substantially reduce the total cost and duration of the mission.

The national laboratories are encouraged to partner with universities and colleges, including minority serving institutions, and industry in their proposals. EM expects to award funding to selected national laboratory teams by the end of September.

Image: Aerial view of the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste Facility on the Hanford Site (courtesy of Office of Environmental Management, USDOE)

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