There are currently 104 nuclear reactors generating electricity in the United States, and most will operate a few decades beyond their design life cycle. A huge engineering challenge to clean up and decommission those reactors lurks over the horizon. Most sites recently re-licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the past several years will be ceasing operations around 2030.
Some of the world's biggest engineering companies such as Bechtel Group will be commissioned to do most of the grunt work, and must invent new technologies to scale their operations. Bechtel's PR agency gave SmartPlanet an exclusive look (it provided information for photo captions) at the extreme engineering it has deployed in the clean up of the Hanford nuclear site, a government nuclear facility in Washington state that dates back to the Manhattan Project. Massive volumes of high and low level nuclear waste is processed, tested, and treated; systems are routinely checked for workers' safety.
The scale of the U.S. government's nuclear operations at Hanford was staggering; it produced most of the plutonium for its 60,000 nuclear weapons and had nine operational nuclear reactors at its Cold War peak. Four 375,000-gallon waste feed vessels will hold materials in the Pretreatment facility as they await transport.