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Hanford’s waste treatment plant to undergo large scale testing

Courtesy of contractor Bechtel
Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant.

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Department of Energy says this fall they'll start large-scale testing on how to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge at the currently under-construction Hanford's waste treatment plant.

Success of the $12 billion treatment plant hinges on these upcoming testing runs. These experiments will be done in a new lab to be built at Washington State University Tri-Cities. Contractors have been doing research and smaller tests for the plant for 10 years.

Now, they'll be using larger tanks that are four, eight and 14-feet across. These tanks will be run with pulse-jet-mixers that will whirl up the simulated waste so it doesn't settle.

The contractors hope that these larger-scale tests will work. Suzanne Heaston is with Bechtel. That's the main contractor building the treatment plant, which is more than half complete.

"We've spent 10 years conducting research and this is the natural evolution of that, this is a good example of that for a first of a kind facility," Heaston says. "I think it speaks to the robustness of the testing program."

Some critics have questioned whether the treatment plant's mixer designs are safe. Most notably a high-level whistleblower named Walt Tamosaitis, who’s suing Bechtel.

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Copyright 2011 Northwest Public Radio

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.