Glass scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted the Department of Energy's Acting Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, Sue Cange earlier this month. DOE's Office of Environmental Management's mission is to complete the safe cleanup of the environmental legacy brought about from five decades of nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research.
Cange was visiting the Hanford nuclear site along with her chief of staff Betsy Connell and associate principle deputy assistant secretary for field operations Stacy Charboneau. They took time out to tour the laboratory where PNNL researchers study the science underpinning vitrification — the process of turning nuclear waste into glass. PNNL scientists support DOE's Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, under construction now, where the waste will be mixed with glass-forming materials and melted into a durable glass form for safe, long-term storage.
Cange learned how the challenges of Hanford's chemically diverse waste are met using scientific glass formulation methods to increase waste loading in the glass and minimize the volume of glass and hence reduce the cost of the clean-up effort. Cange also saw the Laboratory Scale Melter system which is being used to understand the dynamic process of converting the liquid waste into solid glass.
PNNL is world-renowned for its expertise in glass formulation and processing — knowledge that is instrumental to the work done in partnership with the DOE Office of River Protection to develop the vitrification process.
The PNNL Director's Column has more information on how the laboratory supports Hanford cleanup efforts.