Thursday, October 14, 2010

College students analyze Hanford documents for credit

By Erika Holmes, Community Outreach & Environmental Education Specialist, Nuclear Waste Program

As part of an effort to extend our outreach to higher education, I recently visited two English classes at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. The 54 students who are participating are reading and analyzing three documents about a public comment period affecting Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (also commonly called the Vit Plant, short for “vitrification”). In doing so, they’ll practice their critical thinking and analysis skills. They’ll also be learning about important issues right in their backyard and the public’s right to be educated about and involved in cleanup decisions.

A cutting-edge facility

Since 2002, contractors of the U.S. Department of Energy have been busy constructing the $12 billion Waste Treatment Plant, which consists of four buildings that will work in tandem to complete the vitrification process. The Pretreatment Facility will separate out the two different waste streams: low-activity waste and high-level waste. Then the waste will be transferred for processing to the Low-Activity Waste and High-Level Waste facilities. The fourth building is an Analytical Laboratory that will be used for testing and research.

What is vitrification?

Vitrification is the process by which a substance is turned into glass. The 53 million gallons of tank waste currently in aging underground storage tanks will be mixed with molten glass and poured into stainless steel containers for cooling and storage. The waste will be safely stored in glass form while the radioactivity levels decrease over hundreds to thousands of years.

We want your input, too!

If you’re curious about the current public comment period involving the design of waste sampling systems in the Waste Treatment Plant, I encourage you to access the documents the students are reading:

If you’re a college instructor who would like to bring Hanford to life in the classroom, I’d love to brainstorm ideas with you (, 509-372-7880). Elementary and high school teachers can contact Ginger Wireman (509-372-7935) to discuss classroom outreach opportunities.

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