Governor Jay Inslee had said a week ago that one tank was found leaking (see my 2/16/2013 post).
Now it turns out there are six tanks leaking extremely toxic liquid, but they don't know which six, out of 177 tanks.
From Fox News quoting AP (2/22/2013; emphasis is mine):
6 underground Hanford nuclear tanks leaking, Washington governor says
Six underground tanks that hold a brew of radioactive and toxic waste at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site are leaking, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday.
The leaking tanks strike another blow to federal efforts to clean up south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation, where any successes often are overshadowed by delays, budget overruns and technological challenges.
State officials just last week announced that one of Hanford's 177 underground tanks was leaking in the range of 150 to 300 gallons a year, posing a risk to groundwater and rivers. So far, nearby wells haven't detected higher radioactivity levels.
Inslee traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the problem with federal officials. He said Friday he learned during meetings that six tanks are leaking waste.
"We received very disturbing news today," the governor said. "I think that we are going to have a course of new action and that will be vigorously pursued in the next several weeks."
Inslee noted there are legal and ethical considerations to cleaning up the Hanford site, both at the state and national level. He also stressed the state would impose a "zero-tolerance" policy on leaking radioactive waste into the soil and insisted that the Department of Energy fully clean up the site.
The tanks already are long past their intended 20-year life span. They hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
The leaking tanks were missed because graphs that monitor the waste levels were evaluated only over a short period, rather than a longer period that might have shown the levels changing, Inslee said.
"It's like if you're trying to determine if climate change is happening, only looking at the data for today," he said. "Perhaps human error, the protocol did not call for it. But that's not the most important thing at the moment. The important thing now is to find and address the leakers."
The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The government spends $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup -- one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. The cleanup is expected to last decades.
Central to the effort is the construction of a plant to convert millions of gallons of waste into glasslike logs for safe, secure storage. The $12.3 billion plant is billions of dollars over budget and behind schedule.
Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have championed building additional tanks to ensure safe storage of the waste until the plant is completed. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said earlier this week that he shares their concerns about the integrity of the tanks, but that he wants more scientific information to determine it's the correct way to spend scarce money.
Wyden noted the nation's most contaminated nuclear site -- and the challenges associated with ridding it of its toxic legacy -- will be a subject of upcoming hearings and a higher priority in Washington, D.C.
Tanks as they were being installed, (from Wikipedia on Hanford):
These tanks were made of carbon steel, not stainless steel, and surrounded by reinforced concrete. According to a non-profit organization called Hanford Challenge (emphasis is original):
The tanks are leaking due to poor tank integrity – the waste is corroding the carbon steel lining. When the tanks were built during the World War II, a shortage of stainless steel necessitated the use of cheaper, less robust carbon steel – this practice continued long after stainless steel was again available.
Carbon steel corrodes in highly acidic environments like those in Hanford’s tanks, so large amounts of other chemicals were added to neutralize the pH in the tanks, minimizing the corrosion problem but making the waste very difficult to stabilize.
The tanks were built to last 20 years. They were never designed to permanently store high-level radioactive waste. Most of these tanks, 149 of them, are single-shelled and built between 1943 and 1964. These have far exceeded this 20-year projection. It is no surprise that they are failing. The double-shell tanks, 28 of them, are double-shelled, built between 1977 and 1986. The double shell tanks are more robust, but are also made of carbon steel. To date, none of the double-shell tanks have leaked, but a more secure solution is needed to contain this waste and prevent even more waste from leaking into the groundwater.
I'll go find out what kind of containers used in AREVA's decontamination system (which has been shut down for more than a year now), Kurion's cesium absorption system (also shut down), and Toshiba's SARRY (in operation) at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.