Hanford's Sludge Treatment Program (STP) is the project which will remove approximately 35 cubic yards of radioactive sludge that is currently being stored in containers within a water filled basin adjacent to the K West Reactor (see K-Basins link). This sludge, a gray, silty substance created when irradiated fuel rods that had been stored in these basins began to deteriorate, is a mixture of tiny fuel corrosion particles, fuel rod and metal fragments, and wind-blown soil and sand. While the sludge is safely stored in containers in the K West Basin right now, these containers cannot stay there permanently.
The sludge material has a broad range of characteristics and is divided into separate inventories, based on the residual uranium metal content. A small stream which originated from operation of the Integrated Water Treatment System during fuel washing is called Knockout Pot (KOP) material. This small quantity of sludge (~0.2cubic yards) will be packaged for interim storage in the Canister Storage Building, along with the spent fuel and fuel scrap already in storage there. Ultimately this material will be disposed along with the spent fuel and fuel scrap.
The second inventory is described as Engineered Container/Settler Tank material. This larger volume (~35 cubic yards) is destined to be disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot plant, along with other Remote Handled Transuranic (TRU) waste resulting from cleanup at Hanford. It will initially be packaged during Phase 1 operations for interim storage in T-Plant, until phase 2 treatment capabilities can be provided to treat and package the material for disposal at WIPP.
In order to determine the best, safest, and most efficient way to remove the KOP and containerized sludge from the basin, workers have started technology development and operator training at a facility called MASF (the Maintenance and Storage Facility) in Hanford's 400 Area. MASF is a multi-purpose, high bay facility that was originally used in support of the Fast Flux Test Facility.
Today, crews have taken MASF and turned it into a mock-up fuel storage pool which resembles the basin that is currently being used to hold the containers of sludge near the K West Reactor. In this non-hazardous environment, they can simulate the conditions that they will find when they begin the actual process of moving the sludge out of the K-Basins, while also practicing the methods which will be used during the project.
Because of the radioactivity of the sludge, moving the containers is much more complicated than just picking up them up and taking them to another facility. New technologies and new instruments are being developed that workers can use in order to safety and effectively complete the sludge transfer. Training of workers using these new, high-tech instruments is also underway. New containers are being designed to hold the sludge while it's being transported out of the K-Basins. Facilities are being built to house some of the new instruments and processes needed for the removal and packaging of the sludge.
It is expected that the work needed to prepare for the sludge removal from the K-Basins will take until 2013, with the moving of the material scheduled for 2014. At that time, the sludge will be transported to facilities being installed inside Hanford's T-Plant where it will be stored. Ultimately this material will be treated and then packaged for disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for permanent burial with other remote handled Transuranic waste from Hanford Site Cleanup.