Nuclear Waste From Unused Weapons Are Being Safely Turned To Glass After Years Of Leaking

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A major collaboration between public and private sectors is set to launch operations for one of the world’s largest nuclear waste treatment facilities, converting liquid and solid waste into sizable bricks of non-radioactive glass.

Located at the Hanford nuclear cleanup site in Washington state, this facility, commissioned by the Department of Energy and constructed by Bechtel National, employs a process of mixing nuclear waste with conventional glass-forming materials at high temperatures to produce solid glass suitable for safe underground storage.

While concerns about environmental and human health risks associated with nuclear power plants persist, a significant yet often overlooked threat stems from the surplus plutonium generated for nuclear warheads during the Cold War era.

The frenzied nuclear arms race of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s resulted in the production of 56 million gallons of radioactive plutonium and other materials, posing a complex challenge that the Department of Energy has grappled with for decades.

At the Hanford site, radioactive waste undergoes a process wherein it is heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, mingling with the glass material in a molten state before being transferred into stainless steel canisters to cool and stabilize.

Recently, the multi-billion dollar facility progressed with the construction of its first 300-ton melter, following a successful trial run that yielded 30,000 pounds of vitrified glass.

Brian Vance, DOE Hanford site manager, said in a statement, “With this first container of glass produced, we are entering the next era of risk reduction in the Hanford environmental cleanup mission as we work towards the start of tank waste immobilization.”

Of the numerous tanks containing liquid and solid radioactive plutonium waste stored underground at the Hanford site, 20 had experienced leaks, necessitating environmental remediation efforts by the Department of Energy. The inaugural 300-ton melter is slated to commence operations next year.


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