The 400 Area at Hanford is home primarily to the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF), a DOE-owned, formerly operating, 400-megawatt (thermal) liquid-metal (sodium)-cooled nuclear research and test reactor located within the FFTF Property Protected Area (PPA), along with numerous support buildings and structures. The original purpose of the facility, although not a breeder reactor, was to develop and test advanced fuels and materials for the Liquid Fast-Breeder Reactor Program; other missions were subsequently pursued. Construction of FFTF was completed in 1978, and initial criticality was achieved in early 1980, with full power initiated in late 1980. Following an additional year of acceptance testing, FFTF operated successfully from 1982 to 1992 as a research facility providing the nuclear industry with advances in nuclear fuels, materials, and components; nuclear power plant operations and maintenance protocols; and reactor safety designs. During this time, FFTF also produced a wide variety of medical and industrial isotopes, made hydrogen-3 (tritium) for the U.S. fusion research program, and conducted cooperative international research work. In late 1993, DOE decided not to continue operating FFTF due to a lack of economically viable missions at that time and issued a shutdown (e.g., deactivation) order for the facility. Since that time, and, after various delays temporarily stopping the deactivation work, FFTF completed deactivation activities and was placed in a long-term, low-cost surveillance and maintenance condition in 2009.
The DOE Final Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford Site, Richland, Washington (TC&WM EIS, DOE/EIS–0391, December 2012) included evaluations of proposed actions and alternatives for the final decommissioning end state for FFTF and its support buildings/facilities/structures located within the FFTF Property Protected Area, management of waste generated by the decommissioning process, and disposition of Hanford’s inventory of radioactively contaminated bulk sodium. On December 13, 2013 (78 FR 75913), DOE issued the first in a series of Records of Decision (RODs) pursuant to the Final TC&WM EIS. In this ROD, DOE decided to implement FFTF Decommissioning Alternative 2: Entombment. Under this alternative, the above-grade FFTF Reactor Containment Building and its adjacent support buildings/facilities/structures would be dismantled and removed to grade. Below-grade structures, the reactor vessel, piping, and other components, would remain in place along with demolition waste consolidated in below-grade spaces, and filled with grout to immobilize remaining radioactive and hazardous constituents. An engineered modified Resource and Conservation Recovery Act Subtitle C barrier would be constructed over the filled area, followed by post-closure care and institutional controls. The FFTF remote-handled special components would have radioactively contaminated sodium residuals removed by treatment at the Idaho National Laboratory, and returned to Hanford for disposal in an Integrated Disposal Facility. Also under Alternative 2, Hanford’s bulk sodium inventory would be converted to caustic sodium hydroxide in a Sodium Reaction Facility at Hanford, and then stored for ultimate product reuse at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant.
Also at the 400 Area (outside the FFTF PPA) is a mammoth structure called the Fuels and Materials Examination Facility (FMEF). Although the FMEF was intended to be a support building for the FFTF and the future Liquid Fast-Breeder Reactor Program, the FMEF was never used in any kind of a nuclear capacity. When the nation abandoned the breeder reactor program, FMEF was also left without a mission, and remains unused and largely vacant today.