Hanford reactor unsealed for inspection

23 October 2014

Workers have entered the cocooned former plutonium-producing F Reactor at the Hanford site in the USA for the first time in six years to conduct a scheduled inspection.

Hanford F Reactor 460 (DOE)
The F Reactor - the last of the three original plutonium production reactors built as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II - operated from 1945 to 1965 (Image: DOE)

The reactor was sealed in 2003 with its core encased in a concrete shell as part of the so-called interim safe storage process, which allows time for radiation levels to decay naturally. Workers last inspected the inside of the reactor in 2008.

The Department of Energy (DOE), which manages the site, said the welds around the steel door of the F Reactor were removed last week, allowing workers to once again enter it. Once the inspection was completed, the door was resealed.

Mission Support Alliance director of long-term stewardship Rick Moren said, "This inspection gives us an opportunity to conduct radiological surveys, make any repairs to the roof and remove any hazardous substances." He added, "During the inspection, workers found the reactor to be in good shape and almost identical to the last time it was inspected."

Hanford was a plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and associated processing facilities that which played a pivotal role in US defence for more than 40 years. The site is now undergoing environmental cleanup managed by the DOE.

The DOE conducts surveillance and maintenance activities of the sealed reactors periodically to evaluate the structural integrity of the safe storage enclosure and to ensure confinement of any remaining hazardous materials.

As part of the DOE's long-term stewardship program, workers will inspect four other sealed Hanford reactors - the C, D, H and N Reactors - early next year. A fifth reactor - the DR Reactor - was inspected last year.

DOE long-term stewardship program manager Keith Grindstaff said, "This entry marks a transition of sorts because the Hanford long-term stewardship program, for the first time, was responsible for conducting the entry and surveillance and maintenance activities. As the River Corridor cleanup work is completed and transitioned to long-term stewardship, our program will manage any on-going requirements."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News