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Bechtel National

Since 1943, the major storage problem in Hanford, Wash., has been what to do with nuclear waste from plutonium reactors there.

Bechtel Nationals IS manager involved with a waste removal project in Hanford faces a less dangerous yet still daunting storage problem: how to back up and protect data for the mission. That data seems to be building up to rival the liquid sludge on the site.

Hanford was one of the Manhattan Project sites beginning in 1943, and was once home to as many as nine plutonium reactors until they were shut down in 1989. Nuclear waste from the reactors was stored in underground tanks, but leakage threatens to contaminate the Columbia River.

As part of a $6 billion contract from the Department of Energy, Bechtel is building treatment plants to convert the waste through vitrification, a technology that splits the components of nuclear waste, adds glass-making materials, and then heats it at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That turns the waste into molten glass, which is poured into stainless steel canisters. Eventually, the canisters will be transported to a Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada.

Michael Maier, IS and technology manager for the Waste Treatment Plant Project, had storage problems that had nothing to do with steel canisters. His team has to secure the data for the 10-year project.

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