A gigantic nuclear waste treatment plant in eastern Washington state that has been under construction for 18 years is largely completed and soon will be ready to start processing radioactive wastes left over from the construction of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, the U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday. The so-called vitrification plant is a key component in cleaning up the legacy of wastes left at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation from decades of making plutonium for nuclear weapons. The $17 billion plant is designed to treat the bulk of the 56 million gallons of the most toxic radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks. Hanford produced about two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium from World War II through the Cold War.
Senator Maria Cantwell called the Hanford site the world’s largest radioactive waste treatment plant, and she said it was on track to begin processing the waste in 2023. The sprawling vitrification plant is designed to take in the mostly liquid nuclear waste and convert it into a glasslike substance for eventual burial in an underground repository that has yet to be built. Efforts to construct the repository in Nevada have run into intense political opposition. Even when the plant is fully operational, the Department of Energy has estimated it will cost tens of billions of dollars and decades of work to treat all of the waste at Hanford. (AP)