Friday, February 22, 2013

Six, Not One, Rad Waste Tanks Are Leaking at Hanford, Washington Governor Says

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.


netudiant said...

Cleaning up these tanks is an unsolved problem.
Many contain (badly) ferociously radioactive sludge rife with heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
Leakage is common and well known, in fact Hanford found some of its leaks because the cottontails that live on the site were setting off radiation detectors. The rabbit burrows were reaching contaminated soil levels.
While the theory is the wastes will be solidified into a ceramic matrix sufficiently durable to allow them to be buried, the process has not progressed as expected and the cleanup is moving very little. Part of the problem is that the wastes are poorly documented, so each tank is a surprise.
An earlier cleanup effort at the Idaho Nuclear Engineering Lab site was so much more difficult than expected that it would have probably bankrupted the contractor if the Government had not granted contract relief.
There have been reports of the Hanford contamination plume underground coming close to the Columbia River, but these may simply be chemical wastes rather than nuclear wastes. From the outside, it looks to be a mess now and likely to get worse.

Anonymous said...

Costs are not factored into the creation of these monstrosities, much like most of modern society, based on a spiritually dead materialism:

Powerful Lies - The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster And The Radioactive Effects On Human Health

pat said...

It would seem the easiest short term solution would be to build new above ground double walled tanks raised above concrete pads with a drainage/catchment system.

pump out the old tanks

and then pull low pressure on the old tanks to try and keep any rain and moisture from taking residual radioisotopes in the old tanks. Wait until the old tanks drop in radiation intensity and then dissassemble them

I realize the tanks have H2 gas trapped in a crusty matrix, but you would think they could cut that matrix with hydro-cutters and use nitrogen purges to keep oxygen out.

It's like a lot of these problems you need to bite the bullet and get it cleaned up and stabilized.

Anonymous said...

Like I've said, humans don't like maintenance. They just want to enjoy new things and shove everything else under the carpet.

It's clear that was the case here, and as usual, the forgotten consequences of negligence resurface later for the rest of us to deal with.

Anonymous said...

@ Pat

Unfortunately most of these tanks were pumped out years ago the sludge that is left behind isn't easy to handle that is why they have ignored it for decades. It has been know almost since the beginning that the Hanford reach has been in jeopardy from contamination plumes. Originally the experts claimed the contamination would bind to the soil and be "locked up" for centuries but within a few decades evidence was growing that official assurances were worthless.

The Savannah River facility on the Eastcoast has many of the same problem found at Hanford but it gets less of the publicity because it is the site of future operations.,9171,968683,00.html

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