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  • Writer's pictureLucas Nava

DOE commemorates "key player" in safe removal of radioactive waste

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Crews at the Hanford Site in Washington state are celebrating two decades of being able to safely test new technology and equipment prototypes for handling radioactive waste, thanks to a mock-up of a storage tank.

The Cold Test Facility (CTF), a full-scale mock-up of the single-shell storage tanks used at Hanford, is a "key player" in the management of the chemical and radioactive waste stored at the Hanford Site, according to the Office of Environmental Management (OEM), since going into service in 2002.

"Hanford crews built the innovative facility to develop ways to retrieve the waste without having to subject equipment or workers to a radioactive environment," the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) stated in a July 26 announcement of the CTF anniversary.

Underground storage tanks at the Hanford Site contain more than 56,000,000 gallons of chemical and nuclear waste, the DOE reports. At some point, that waste will be moved from the tanks to the site's waste treatment plant, to be converted into a stable, glass-like substance, a process that "isn't easy," according to the DOE, because of the age and design of the tanks and the danger of handling caustic hazardous waste.

Using the CTF, "(w)orkers can simulate the kinds of conditions that would be found inside a tank," the announcement states, "while also testing new equipment and technologies which they believe could help remove tank waste that is in difficult-to-reach places or in a semi-solid state."

Robotic arms, a vacuum retrieval system, specialized high-pressure water nozzles, in-tank camera systems and tools for inspections and repairs are among the prominent technologies developed and refined in the CTF, the DOE reports.

“Most of these systems are complex engineered products that require operational testing prior to deployment,” Dave Saueressig, WRPS maintenance manager, said in the report. “And some of the tests are minor modifications to existing tools or equipment to validate process improvements.”

The CTF is also used to train new employees and give experienced employees the chance to brush-up their skills for infrequent tasks, the DOE states. The facility also has a briefing center to educate visitors on the history and importance of the waste storage tanks.

“Testing equipment and practicing high-risk work in a mock-up setting is extremely important at Hanford,” Ricky Bang, director of the Office of River Protection (ORP) Tank Farms Program Division, said in the report. “Over the last two decades, the Cold Test Facility has helped us reduce the risks to our workers and develop the tools they need to work in the waste tanks.”

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