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Physcial Sciences Division
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January 2018

Detailed Look at Hanford Site Waste Offers Insights, Ideas

Periodic chart showing elements in Hanford Site tank waste
Elements prevalent in Hanford Site tank waste. Copyright 2017: American Chemical Society

Congratulations to Reid Peterson, Jaehun Chun, and Sue Clark of the IDREAM Energy Frontier Research Center on their role in a groundbreaking paper. They were part of a team of authors representing Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington River Protection Solutions and Washington State University and funded by PNNL's Nuclear Processing Science Initiative. The paper provides a view into the radioactive waste stored in the Hanford Site's underground tanks and offers some new perspectives on understanding of tank waste properties.

The paper, "Review of the Scientific Understanding of Radioactive Waste at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site," was published in December 2017 in the online version of Environmental Science and Technology.

At the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State, approximately 56 million gallons of mixed radioactive and chemical waste were produced from the processing of irradiated fuel to recover plutonium for nuclear weapons. The waste was generated over a 40-year period, is stored in 177 underground tanks, and is expected to cost many billions of dollars to remediate.     

The paper examines the history and general character of the tank waste, including complexity and physical and chemical behaviors that impact treatment and disposal. The document asserts that prediction and control of waste behavior will require quantitative information on the physics and chemistry of particle-fluid interfaces, as well as higher spatial and chemical resolution of the solid phase. The authors point out that new microscopy advances are enabling physics/chemistry-based predictive models of waste behavior, which could lead to more effective processing methods. 

The research team members are Reid Peterson, Edgar Buck, Jaehun Chun, Richard Daniel, Eugene Ilton and Gregg Lumetta of PNNL; Daniel Herting of WRPS; and Sue Clark, who serves in a joint PNNL-WSU appointment.

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