For more than 40 years, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites such as Hanford and Savannah River produced plutonium for our nation’s national defense. These weapons production activities generated massive quantities of highly radioactive wastes that have been stored in large underground tanks for many decades. As part of its cleanup priorities, DOE is working to process these wastes into waste forms for geologic disposal. At Hanford in Washington State, 177 underground tanks contain the wastes, and each is a complex mixture of liquids, solids, pastes, and radioactivity. DOE currently estimates that it will take several decades to transform those millions of gallons of waste into waste forms for safe disposal. Safely and effectively processing this material poses significant technical challenges and using currently available technologies for the decades-long cleanup will be quite expensive, to the tune of hundreds of billions of taxpayer’s dollars. The scientific issues underlying waste processing are worthy of a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), a program that draws together researchers from diverse backgrounds and institutions to tackle complex fundamental science challenges through tightly integrated, multidisciplinary collaborations. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), along with six partner institutions, comprise the only EFRC that focuses on the staggering chemical complexity of these stored highly radioactive wastes.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 25th Aug 2020 read more »