The Department of Energy will delay coming up with a new cost and schedule for Hanford’s huge vitrification plant after a technical panel agreed with an employee that erosion and corrosion within the plant must be addressed.
David Huizenga, DOE’s senior adviser for environmental management, made the announcement today in a national media call after congressional leaders were briefed this morning.
Resolving technical issues, including how to keep radioactive waste well mixed and to prevent erosion and corrosion within the plant, is expected to take more than a year and cost tens of millions of dollars, Huizenga said.
The testing is intended to give additional confidence that the Waste Treatment Plant can operate for the full 40 years planned to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste for disposal, Huizenga said.
The waste, held in underground tanks, is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
“We’re trying to address technical issues head on and realistically,” Huizenga said.
By acknowledging issues now, the plant will not end up with unanticipated costs and maintenance issues in the future, he said.
Now the plant is legally required to start operating in 2019 and is projected to cost $12.2 billion, but DOE will not be able to finish it by then and at that price.
DOE had instructed its contractor Bechtel National in February to propose a new cost and schedule for the vitrification plant, which was due in August.
But with technical questions to be addressed for parts of the plant that will handle large quantities of high level radioactive waste, Bechtel will proceed only with a cost and schedule revision for the plant’s Low Level Waste Facility, the Analytical Laboratory and about 20 support facilities.
When testing is finished, it then can address additional cost and schedule information for the vit plant’s High Level Waste Facility and Pretreatment Facility.
Those two buildings have areas called “black cells,” that will be too radioactively hot for workers to safely enter after the plant begins operating for maintenance or to make repairs.
Construction at those facilities already has been ramped down and no further layoffs are anticipated.
Don Alexander, a DOE scientist, raised questions regarding erosion and corrosion in piping and tanks in black cells within the plant in September in a Difference of Professional Opinion report, disagreeing with scientific opinion accepted by DOE.
It was the third set of issues he’d raised in an ongoing Difference of Professional Opinion.
DOE addressed his concerns with a panel of technical experts that concluded his concerns are legitimate, and now DOE is planning testing that will be done in conjunction with already planned mixing testing to resolve them, Huizenga said.
“I think this demonstrates if people raise issues, we are willing to make tough decisions to address them,” Huizenga said.