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How to dismantle a nuclear reactor (photos)

There are currently 104 nuclear reactors generating electricity in the United States, and most will operate a few decades beyond their design life cycle. A huge engineering challenge to clean up and decommission those reactors lurks over the horizon. Most sites recently re-licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the past several years will be ceasing operations around 2030. Some of the world's biggest engineering companies such as Bechtel Group will be commissioned to do most of the grunt work, and must invent new technologies to scale their operations. Bechtel's PR agency gave SmartPlanet an exclusive look (it provided information for photo captions) at the extreme engineering it has deployed in the clean up of the Hanford nuclear site, a government nuclear facility in Washington state that dates back to the Manhattan Project. Massive volumes of high and low level nuclear waste is processed, tested, and treated; systems are routinely checked for workers' safety.
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By David Worthington on
375000_gallon_Waste_Feed_Receipt_Vessels.jpg
1 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

There are currently 104 nuclear reactors generating electricity in the United States, and most will operate a few decades beyond their design life cycle. A huge engineering challenge to clean up and decommission those reactors lurks over the horizon. Most sites recently re-licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the past several years will be ceasing operations around 2030.

Some of the world's biggest engineering companies such as Bechtel Group will be commissioned to do most of the grunt work, and must invent new technologies to scale their operations. Bechtel's PR agency gave SmartPlanet an exclusive look (it provided information for photo captions) at the extreme engineering it has deployed in the clean up of the Hanford nuclear site, a government nuclear facility in Washington state that dates back to the Manhattan Project. Massive volumes of high and low level nuclear waste is processed, tested, and treated; systems are routinely checked for workers' safety.

The scale of the U.S. government's nuclear operations at Hanford was staggering; it produced most of the plutonium for its 60,000 nuclear weapons and had nine operational nuclear reactors at its Cold War peak. Four 375,000-gallon waste feed vessels will hold materials in the Pretreatment facility as they await transport.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
375000_gallon_Waste_Feed_Receipt_vessel_Install_at_Pretreatment_Facility.jpg
2 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Four 375,000-gallon waste feed vessels will hold materials in the Pretreatment facility as they await transport.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Automatic_Ultrasonic_Testing.jpg
3 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Transporting nuclear waste can be dangerous work. Computerized orbital welders produce consistent high-quality welds in hard to reach areas. To test the welds, an Automatic Ultrasonic Testing system was designed for the 30,000 welds that abandoned the old x-ray method of testing welds, eliminating the need to clear worker's out of the area for testing. This cut down the number of scans needed to verify safety and quality from 3 -1…more than a 60% time savings. Other companies are attempting to develop their own automatic testing system, but none have done so successfully to date, Bechtel claims.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Automatic_Ultrasonic_Testing_3.jpg
4 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Computerized orbital welders produce consistent high-quality welds in hard to reach areas. To test the welds, an Automatic Ultrasonic Testing system was designed for the 30,000 welds that abandoned the old x-ray method of testing welds, eliminating the need to clear worker's out of the area for testing. This cut down the number of scans needed to verify safety and quality from 3 -1…more than a 60% time savings. Other companies are attempting to develop their own automatic testing system, but none have done so successfully to date, Bechtel claims.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Automatic_Untrasonic_Testing_2.jpg
5 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Computerized orbital welders produce consistent high-quality welds in hard to reach areas. To test the welds, an Automatic Ultrasonic Testing system was designed for the 30,000 welds that abandoned the old x-ray method of testing welds, eliminating the need to clear worker's out of the area for testing. This cut down the number of scans needed to verify safety and quality from 3 -1…more than a 60% time savings. Other companies are attempting to develop their own automatic testing system, but none have done so successfully to date, Bechtel claims.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Autosampler_System_Separation_Piping.jpg
6 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The automated pneumatic system collects samples directly from the Pretreatment, High Level Waste and Low Activity Waste facility process lines at various stages of treatment, and transports samples to the Analytical Lab for analysis. The systems tests 10,000 samples a year, ensuring federal and local safety compliance.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Autosampler_System_Valve.jpg
7 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The automated pneumatic system collects samples directly from the Pretreatment, High Level Waste and Low Activity Waste facility process lines at various stages of treatment, and transports samples to the Analytical Lab for analysis. The systems tests 10,000 samples a year, ensuring federal and local safety compliance.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Autosampler_Unit_Exterior.jpg
8 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The automated pneumatic system collects samples directly from the Pretreatment, High Level Waste and Low Activity Waste facility process lines at various stages of treatment, and transports samples to the Analytical Lab for analysis. The systems tests 10,000 samples a year, ensuring federal and local safety compliance.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Computerized_Orbital_Welder.jpg
9 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Computerized orbital welders produce consistent high-quality welds in hard to reach areas. To test the welds, an Automatic Ultrasonic Testing system was designed for the 30,000 welds that abandoned the old x-ray method of testing welds, eliminating the need to clear worker's out of the area for testing. This cut down the number of scans needed to verify safety and quality from 3 -1…more than a 60% time savings. Other companies are attempting to develop their own automatic testing system, but none have done so successfully to date, Bechtel claims.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Crane_Components_into_Pretreatment_Facility.jpg
10 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Crane components were lifted into the air and lowered into the Pretreatment facility through the roof. When operational, the 30-ton capacity crane will be essential to maintaining the process equipment in areas of the facility off limits to workers (black cells).

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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11 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Nuclear grade heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will be essential to maintaining contamination boundaries during operations. This piece of duct work measures 5 ft. in diameter, 30 feet in length and weighs 10 tons.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
High_Level_Waste_Air_Filtration_Duct.jpg
12 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Nuclear grade heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will be essential to maintaining contamination boundaries during operations. This piece of duct work measures 5 ft. in diameter, 30 feet in length and weighs 10 tons.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
ICP_AES_Glovebox_with_Hot_cell_Ablation.jpg
13 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

In the WTP Analytical Lab, waste samples that have been converted into a glass disk the size of a quarter will be vaporized with a laser beam. The vaporized sample is then analyzed using a spectrophotometer. Using laser ablation, the chemical composition of waste is determined by analyzing wavelengths of the elements in the sample. This WTP developed method reduces sample preparation and analysis time by more than 75%.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Laser_Ablation_inside_hot_cell.jpg
14 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

In the WTP Analytical Lab, waste samples that have been converted into a glass disk the size of a quarter will be vaporized with a laser beam. The vaporized sample is then analyzed using a spectrophotometer. Using laser ablation, the chemical composition of waste is determined by analyzing wavelengths of the elements in the sample. This WTP developed method reduces sample preparation and analysis time by more than 75%.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Laser_Scan_result.jpg
15 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Employing innovative techniques for complex construction work, high-tech laser scanning enables intricate and accurate design and installation of complex configurations such as the Pretreatment facility’s pre-assembled black cell piping modules.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Low_Activity_Waste_Melter_in_fabrication.jpg
16 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The WTP will have the largest melters used for vitrification in the U.S.  The 330-ton Low Activity Waste melters are twice the size of any previous melter in the country. The High Level Waste melter has three times the capacity of the Defense Waste Processing Facility at the DOE Savannah River site.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pipe_Module_CADD_diagram.png
17 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pipe modules are constructed at ground level for safety, accuracy and efficiency. The completed modules are then lifted into the facilities. The Bentley Navigator Pipe Status Modeling System tracks installation progress to give workers the information they need to determine which modules have been installed, and the order of new installations. These specialized techniques were developed to accurately and efficiently install massive structures in space-contained areas.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pipe_Module.jpg
18 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pipe modules are constructed at ground level for safety, accuracy and efficiency. The completed modules are then lifted into the facilities. The Bentley Navigator Pipe Status Modeling System tracks installation progress to give workers the information they need to determine which modules have been installed, and the order of new installations. These specialized techniques were developed to accurately and efficiently install massive structures in space-contained areas.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Piping_Module_Installation.jpg
19 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pipe modules are constructed at ground level for safety, accuracy and efficiency. The completed modules are then lifted into the facilities. The Bentley Navigator Pipe Status Modeling System tracks installation progress to give workers the information they need to determine which modules have been installed, and the order of new installations. These specialized techniques were developed to accurately and efficiently install massive structures in space-contained areas.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Piping_Module_Installation_3.jpg
20 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pipe modules are constructed at ground level for safety, accuracy and efficiency. The completed modules are then lifted into the facilities. The Bentley Navigator Pipe Status Modeling System tracks installation progress to give workers the information they need to determine which modules have been installed, and the order of new installations. These specialized techniques were developed to accurately and efficiently install massive structures in space-contained areas.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Piping_module_Installation_2.jpg
21 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pipe modules are constructed at ground level for safety, accuracy and efficiency. The completed modules are then lifted into the facilities. The Bentley Navigator Pipe Status Modeling System tracks installation progress to give workers the information they need to determine which modules have been installed, and the order of new installations. These specialized techniques were developed to accurately and efficiently install massive structures in space-contained areas.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pretreatment_Engineering_Platform.jpg
22 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The Pretreatment Engineering platform successfully demonstrated integrated process testing for caustic and oxidative leaching, washing and filtration/concentration, as well as the efficacy of pretreatment capacity modifications implemented in 2007.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pretreatment_Engineering_Platform_2.jpg
23 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The Pretreatment Engineering platform successfully demonstrated integrated process testing for caustic and oxidative leaching, washing and filtration/concentration, as well as the efficacy of pretreatment capacity modifications implemented in 2007.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pretreatment_Engineering_Platform_3.jpg
24 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The Pretreatment Engineering platform successfully demonstrated integrated process testing for caustic and oxidative leaching, washing and filtration/concentration, as well as the efficacy of pretreatment capacity modifications implemented in 2007.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Pulse_jet_mixer.jpg
25 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Pulse jet mixers are used at various points in the waste transport process to ensure the radioactive sludge remains well mixed, preventing a build-up of radioactive materials in the piping modules.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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26 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

The WTP project has led the development and qualification of resorcinol formaldehyde resin, which is needed to remove large amounts of cesium before the Low-Activity Waste Facility feed can be sent to the melters. This resin has superior operational properties and costs less than the resin that was originally planned at the onset of the project, the company says.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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27 of 27 David Worthington/ZDNet

Large bundles of ultrafiltration modules are used in the Pretreatment Facility to separate low-activity waste feed stream from the high-level waste solids feed.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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