Patty in the News

More will be known about how well the mixing system will work at the $12.2 billion vitrification plant being built at Hanford after more testing is completed, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee hearing today.

He had been asked by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., what his level of confidence was that technical issues at the plant could be resolved.

There also are opportunities to “buy insurance” on how well particles of solid waste will remain mixed by prefiltering the waste, he said.

Construction started on the vit plant almost a decade ago and design is almost complete, yet several significant technical issues have been raised about the plant, Murray said.

“Inside the black cells there is no room for error,” she said.

The plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s weapons program.

Black cells will process high-level radioactive waste, making them too radioactively hot for workers to safely enter for maintenance after processing begins.

Concerns have been raised that inadequate mixing of waste could lead to a criticality or buildup of flammable gases.

The issues that have been raised, including keeping waste well mixed, have been known for several years, possibly before he became energy secretary, Chu said.

“I agree with you once it goes hot, we want to be sure it works,” Chu said. That’s why it’s prudent to do extra testing of the technology, he said.

Murray also asked him about what will happen if the Department of Energy doesn’t meet terms of a legal consent decree covering the start of operations of the plant.

What happens depends on the budgets Congress sets for the plant, Chu said.

Read the full story Thursday in the Tri-City Herald and at

Read more here: