How 4D Imaging and Robots Contribute to Safe Cleanup of Hanford Site

The Columbia River supports some $198 billion annually in food, water, flood risk reduction, recreation, habitat, aesthetic and other natural capital benefits. What if we showed you how Jacobs is safely managing one of the world's-largest remediation programs, aimed at protecting this valuable resource?

WP&T at night

As the fourth largest river in North America, covering 258,000 square miles and crossing parts of seven U.S. states and one Canadian province, the Columbia River basin is vital to the Pacific Northwest region’s culture and economy.

On its path back to draining more water to the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America, the Columbia River flows through four mountain ranges, produces drinking water for many communities along its course and irrigates 600,000 acres of farmland.

The river basin in southeastern Washington is also home to the Hanford Site, which for more than 40 years, was home to reactors that produced plutonium for America’s defense program. These weapons production processes left solid and liquid wastes that pose a risk to the local environment, including the Columbia River.

But what if we showed you how Jacobs – during the last decade – has managed the environmental cleanup of the Central Plateau at the Hanford Site, using tools such as 4D imaging and robotics to safely perform one of the largest environmental protection programs in the world?

What if we showed you?


site staff implementing a groundwater cleanup strategy focused on cleanup along the Columbia River


billion gallons of contaminated groundwater cleaned up, supporting the overall mission of protecting the river

Safely cleaning up the Columbia

Columbia River
Exterior HDPE piping
Elk at Hanford site
Aerial of Hanford site

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Washington State Department of Ecology entered into a legally binding accord, the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA), to clean up the Hanford Site.

In 2008, DOE engaged CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) as the prime contractor for the safe, environmental cleanup of the Central Plateau at Hanford. Our work on this $6.4 billion-dollar contract includes reducing risks on the Hanford Site by removing some of the DOE’s highest hazard waste streams and facilities, from cleaning up billions of gallons of contaminated groundwater to removing highly-radioactive “sludge” away from the Columbia River.

CHPRC’s full scope includes characterization of facilities and waste sites; characterization and retrieval of waste/spent nuclear fuel; environmental protection and regulatory compliance; material handling and processing operations; decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) of nuclear and ancillary facilities; partnership with DOE for establishing milestones according to schedule and funding requirements. Our groundwater cleanup strategy focuses specifically on cleanup along the river, which includes construction, expansion and operation of pump & treat facilities to treat contaminated groundwater and support the overall mission of protecting the Columbia.

From robots...

For the first time in nearly two decades, we’re now able to remotely explore and sample potentially hazardous areas of a former nuclear processing facility at the Hanford Site. Recently, our team modified a small robotic device to safely investigate areas suspected of highly-radioactive contamination in the Reduction Oxidation (REDOX) facility, one of five former processing facilities on Hanford’s Central Plateau.

The robot is equipped with instruments to detect radioactivity and radiological contamination. An attached camera allows the operator to guide the device to an area under investigation. The device identified a safe path for entry and exit of the area to help inform future cleanup efforts. Discover more here. going underground with real-time 4D imaging

Just west of the Columbia River shoreline, underground uranium concentrations remain high at Hanford’s 300 area. Alongside DOE, we recently finished injecting a polyphosphate solution into the ground to bind with uranium through a process called sequestration, preventing the uranium from reaching the groundwater and Columbia River. This solution acts like a time-release medicine, breaking up over time. As the solution reacts with the uranium, it produces a naturally occurring rock which stabilizes the uranium in the soil.

Researchers worked with us to successfully implement a state-of-the-art approach for monitoring the delivery of the polyphosphate remediation using Real-time Four-Dimensional Subsurface Imaging Software (E4D) to take images of the vertical and lateral movement of the polyphosphate solution. E4D uses electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) measurements to reconstruct time-lapse images of the electrical conductivity of the soil. As the polyphosphate solution permeates the soil and the ground’s electrical conductivity increases, an array of ERT sensors continuously measure the change in conductivity. E4D uses the measurements to produce images of the polyphosphate remedy distribution over time.

Measurements from the sensors instantly traveled via wireless internet to Constance, a supercomputer, which processed the data, combining geology, physics, mathematics and chemistry with E4D’s modeling software to create time-lapse 3-D images of the solution and its location within minutes. Learn more here.

A lasting legacy

In 2018, our CHPRC team celebrated receiving the DOE Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Legacy of Stars award, which is a safety award given to contractors that first receive VPP Star Status for four consecutive years. Members of the team at the T Plant also completed their first shipment of some of the most hazardous material at the site, moving it away from the Columbia River for safe storage.

More than 700 of our employees donate thousands of hours each year volunteering with local small businesses, non-profits and community organizations. Our presence in the Tri-Cities area is a real example of how we engrain in the communities where we live and work, and how impactful our programs are to local communities – and DOE recently announced its decision to extend our contract, allowing us to carry on our contributions to the safe cleanup at the Hanford Site and local communities through September 2020.

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