Environmental News Service


January 27, 1999

The thermal stabilization of plutonium has resumed after a two-year suspension at the Plutonium Finishing Plant on the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington. The process converts chemically reactive plutonium-bearing scraps and powders into a safer form for starage by heating the material in small ovens at 1,000 degrees Celsius for two to four hours. This drives out the moisture and volatile chemicals and converts the material into impure, inert plutonium oxide that can be sealed in containers for long-term storage in shielded vaults at Hanford. The plant holds 4.3 metric tons of scrap plutonium in 17.8 metric tons of plutonium-bearing materials in metal, powders, scraps, liquids and polycubes. In October 1996, B&W Hanford Company (BWHC) took over management of the Plutonium Finishing Plant. Their staff passed a rigorous Operational Readiness Review January 15 after inspection by a team from the Department of Energy (DOE) and one from Hanford's principal contractor, Fluor Daniel Hanford. The DOE says B&W Hanford has resolved problems raised by the May 14, 1997 chemical explosion at the Plutonium Reclamation Facility, which is part of the Finishing Plant.