The Plutonium Finishing Plant, also known as PFP, represented the end of the line (the final procedure) associated with plutonium production at Hanford. PFP was also known as “Z-Plant” due to the fact that no further Hanford activity related to plutonium production would be done after the plutonium had been processed here. The plant began operations in 1949.
At this facility, the plutonium that had been extracted in a liquid form from the irradiated fuel rods at Hanford was processed into a solid form. Crews took the plutonium nitrate solution and made solid, hockey-puck sized plutonium “buttons” and plutonium oxide powder which could then be shipped to the country’s weapons production facilities. PFP produced more of these “buttons” than any other American facility. In addition, the PFP also had facilities to recover plutonium that was found on metals, scraps, or equipment used in the plutonium production process.
The Plutonium Finishing Plant is actually a complex consisting of more than sixty buildings. Ultimately, all of these structures are to be decontaminated and demolished as Hanford cleanup continues. The long-term goal for PFP is to bring it down to “slab on grade” which means that the buildings are all to be decontaminated and demolished, the debris removed, and all that will be left will be the concrete floors of the various structures.
In December of 2009, a momentous event was celebrated as it was announced that all of the remaining plutonium that had been stored at Hanford had been successfully stabilized, packaged, and shipped to the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. The facility’s armed security presence which had been associated with PFP for many years was no longer needed. At an event to commemorate the removal of the plutonium, for the first time ever, some members of the public were given the chance to see the once top-secret vaults where the plutonium had been stored.
The event ushered in a new focus for PFP workers. Many of them had been involved in the protection and monitoring of plutonium at the facility, as well as the decontamination of the glove boxes, hoods, and processing lines at PFP. While the decontamination work continues and decontaminated equipment is still being removed, crews can now shift more of their attention to the demolition of the sixty buildings associated with the PFP complex. The Department of Energy plans to have PFP to slab on grade by 2017.