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Hanford Waste Treatment Plant

We oversee the permitting, construction, and eventual operation of the world’s largest treatment plant for radioactive waste, or the Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP). The plant will encapsulate radioactive and chemical waste from Hanford's underground tanks in glass, and place it for long-term storage in large stainless steel cylinders. The glass will keep the waste stable so it can be safely disposed of without posing significant risk to human health or the environment.

Workers examine Hanford tank equipment wearing protective suits and air masks.

Workers in protective suits and air masks examine Hanford tank equipment.

In June 2002, workers poured the first yard of concrete for Hanford's Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP). The facility is intended to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive and dangerous chemical waste currently stored in 177 aging tanks at Hanford. The start of construction culminated more than a decade of planning by the state of Washington and the U.S. Department of Energy. The plan is to build a facility capable of treating the nuclear waste and reducing the risks it poses to humans and the environment.

If the waste is not removed from the tanks and treated, it will eventually escape containment — more than one million gallons of waste already has leaked — and reach the Columbia River. The treatment plant is a critical component in the overall Hanford cleanup. It will go a long way toward reducing the threat to the environment and to surrounding communities.
Aerial view of the Waste Treatment Plant buildings under construction.

When will the treatment plant begin operations?

A portion of the Waste Treatment Plant is projected to begin operating in 2022. Waste will be removed from aging underground storage tanks and then immobilized in glass through a process called vitrification. The WTP, also known as the vitrification, or "vit" plant, is the cornerstone of Hanford's cleanup. We are working diligently with USDOE and their contractors to promote a timely launch, and have even taken them to court when necessary.

What is vitrification?

The vitrification process converts liquid radioactive and chemical waste into solid glass. The tank waste will be mixed with glass-forming materials, heated to 2,100° F (1,149° C), and poured into large stainless steel containers for cooling and storage.

The vitrification process has been used successfully at other radioactive waste cleanup sites worldwide. However, it has never been used to treat waste as complex as Hanford's, or on such a large scale. The construction site spans 65 acres and includes four major treatment facilities. The Pretreatment Facility, the largest of the buildings, has a footprint equivalent to 1.5 football fields and will be 12 stories tall. The long-term plan is for these containers to be safely stored in a deep geologic repository while radioactivity levels decrease over time.