What is Vitrification?
Vitrification is accomplished by mixing waste from Hanford's underground tanks with glass-forming materials in high-temperature melters. As the materials are heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, the waste is incorporated into the molten glass. This “liquid glass” is poured into stainless steel canisters to cool.
Once cooled, the now-solid vitrified waste within the canisters can be disposed of permanently and safely. The most hazardous waste will be buried in a national repository. Less dangerous wastes will be disposed of at the Integrated Disposal Facility on the Hanford Site.
The nuclear and chemical wastes will be delivered from the underground storage tanks to the Vit Plant through a series of underground transfer lines. Called “pipe-in-pipe,” the system provides an extra layer of protection during the transfer of waste to the Vit Plant.
The waste will first enter the Vit Plant complex through the Pretreatment Facility. The largest of the facilities in the complex, it will be the equivalent of 1.5 football fields in length (540 feet), over 70 yards wide (215 feet), and 12 stories high (120 feet). It will encompass more than 13.9 million cubic feet of space and contain 100 miles of piping.
At Pretreatment, the waste is concentrated by removing any excess water. Solids are then filtered out using ultra-filtration technology, and an ion exchange process removes the soluble, highly radioactive materials. The waste is separated into low-activity and high-level waste streams for processing at the Low-Activity Waste Vitrification and High-Level Waste Vitrification facilities.
Read more about the Hanford Vit Plant here.
Vitrification is a proven and reliable technology used at U.S. and foreign defense waste processing facilities.
The process converts liquid radioactive and chemical waste into a solid, stable glass, eliminating environmental risks. At Hanford, approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste are stored in 177 underground tanks waiting to be vitrified.
- Waste is separated according to the level of radioactivity at the Pretreatment Facility.
- Separated waste is mixed with silica and other glass-forming materials at the High-Level Waste and Low-Activity Waste facilities.
- The mixtures are sent to high-temperature melters where they are heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit to form molten glass.
- Molten glass is poured into containment vessels where it cools to become solid glass.
- The stabilized waste is safely stored in canisters onsite or at a federal repository.