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Inslee proclaims no tolerance for Hanford leaks

Authorities have discovered a new leak among single-shell tanks for nuclear waste storage.
A Department of Energy warning sign at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation

A Department of Energy warning sign at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation Great Beyond (Tony Case)/Flickr

A few hundred gallons of highly radioactive wastes have leaked anew from an underground  single-shell tank at Hanford. 

That's a mere drop compared to the 1 million gallons that have leaked in the past 30 years.

In terms of danger, this leak is negligible. But it's a "canary in  the coal mine" clue that a new environmental problem may be popping up at Hanford — rainwater seeping into old single-shell waste tanks, getting contaminated, and then leaking back into the soil. 

This is the first new leak from a single-shell tank since 1995. State officals are worried that other new, yet-undiscovered leaks could be in other single-shell tanks. The big mystery is that almost all the fluids were pumped out of this tank, also in 1995.

"Washingotn state has zero tolerance on radioactive leaks," said Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday afternoon. He plans to meet soon with U.S .Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to discuss fix-it measures.

A U.S. Department of Energy press release said, "The Department will continue to work closely with the state of Washington, Congress and other key stakeholders" on this matter.

Since 1989, the state has legally clashed with DOE several times about the feds sticking to legal cleanup deadlines. Inslee hopes to avoid a lawsuit over the new leak situation. The state has a huge complicated contract — the Tri-Party Agreement — in which it and the U.S. Environment Protection Agency can legally enforce Hanford's cleanup. 

The central Hanford reservation has 149 single-shell tanks and 28 newer double-shell tanks holding 53 million gallons of highly radioactive fluids, sludges, gunk and crusts. These "tank farms" are seven to 14 miles from the Columbia River. Sxity-seven of the single-shell tanks have been designated leakers or suspected leakers for decades. Hanford's tanks have design lives of roughly 20 years. 

Hanford has pumped almost all the liquids from the single-shell tanks into the double-shell shells, finishing that task in 2005. The single-shell tanks still hold sludge, gunk and crusts, plus tiny pockets of fluids.

Tests were being conducted on several single-shell tanks to see whether rainwater was leaking into them through possible cracks, said Cheryl Whalen, cleanup section manager at the Washington Department of Ecology's Hanford office. Those tests showed a dip in fluid levels in Tank T-111, which is in the northwest corner of central Hanford's tank farms.  Engineers extrapolated that drop into a leak of 150 gallons to 300 gallons annually for an undetermined numberr of years. 

All 177 stainless steel tanks, ranging from 500,000 gallons to 1.2 million gallons in size, are buried beneath 10 to 20 feet of soil, All  the testing and pumping are conducted through narrow pipes between the tanks' interiors and the ground's surface. The tanks are roughly 100 feet to 200 feet above the aquifer. 

Past single-shell tank leaks have already hit the aquifer and are oozing at various speeds toward the Columbia River. Besides the 1 million gallons of highly radioactive wastes, Hanford has also put 440 billion gallons of slightly contaminated liquids into the ground with the plumes reaching the Columbia River decades ago. Roughly 180 square miles of Hanford's aquifer is contaminated, with about half of that being unsafe to drink. So far, the Columbia River's huge volume has diluted the contaminants. Drinking water has shown up as safe in Richland immediately downstream.

Pump-and-treat facilities and underground chemical barriers are scattered at strategic locations along the underground plume. A new pump-and-treat station was installed near Tank T-111 about one-and-a-half years ago, Whalen said. 

The 530,000-gallon Tank T-111 -- one of the smallest tanks  -- was built during World War II to received wastes from the world's first industrials-size nuclear reactor and its accompanying chemical plants  at Hanford, which created plutonium for the Trinity and Nagasaki atomic bombs. Even though almost all the fluids have been pumped out, the presence of liquids is a clue that rainwater might be seeping into this tank and possibly others. Tank T-111 still contains 447,000 gallons of sludge and crusts. 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 19, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

If Gov. Inslee is serious about Hanford clean-up then he needs to convey that to the WA State Dept. of Ecology. Otherwise his comments are just window dressing.

mikemc

Posted Fri, Aug 2, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Hanford Advisory Board, representing 32 Northwest business, labor, environment, government, tribal interests, asked the feds to build new double-shell tanks because the current 28 tanks are almost full and becoming antiquated. On Friday, Inslee said he would make a similar demand. Inslee called the multiple threats "'a perfect radioactive storm', and I don't see a better example why automatic and arbitrary federal budget cuts is a bad idea. Money cannot be used as an excuse for no action," Inslee said. "We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in a dead end, arguing over prioritization of these challenges."

I was looking to understand why the article was titled, "Inslee proclaims no tolerance for Hanford leaks" and in the primo I wondered what made "Inslee angered." Inslee doesn't get angered much.

Give Bertha 1000' length (100' depth) or reaches Jackson Street before waterfront soils are damaged but repairable. Bertha continues a 2=Degree grade another 1400' to a final depth of 180' or so; rough calculations but close enough. Beyond 1000' Bertha bore disruption to watery layers of compact till cannot be repaired. New water channels will form. Collapsable voids follow. Building foundations undermined, as predicted. Rebuilding limited. I'll sign off and take a needed break after that point when it's too late to save your asses.

Wells

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