Leak in massive Hanford nuclear waste tank getting worse

Some background on Hanford waste from Gordon Edwards at CCNR.org, March 7, 2014:

When nuclear proponents speak of "recycling" nuclear waste, they are talking about "reprocessing".  

Reprocessing involves chopping nuclear fuel waste into chunks and dissolving the chunks in boiling nitric acid to create a highly radioactive "soup"from which plutonium and/or other fissile material can be extracted by chemical means.  All of this has to be done in a robotic factory because the radiation is so intense it would kill any humans who tried it by hand. 


The result is high-level radioactive liquid waste called "post-reprocessing" waste.  It has to be constantly cooled and stirred to prevent heat build-up and minimize sludge formation that can jeopardize the integrity of the steel tanks used to store the corrosive liquid nuclear waste. 


At Hanford, Washington, not far from the Columbia River, plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced for several decades. The post-reprocessing liquid nuclear waste was originally stored in single-walled tanks which eventually leaked millions of gallons into the soil.  Twenty-eight new double-walled tanks were built to contain the liquid waste more securely, and now some of those are leaking too.

Susannah Frame l KING 5 News, Northwest Cable News, March 6, 2014 


RICHLAND, Wash. -- Workers have found more waste leaking between the walls of a nuclear storage tank on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The waste was found in a new place between the walls of one of the 28 double shell tanks at the site. The US Dept. of Energy, which owns Hanford, says the waste is covering an area of 7 feet by 21 inches. The double shell tanks were built to be the most robust tanks at Hanford. They were constructed with the intent to be able to safely store the dangerous wastes until the technology to permanently dispose of the liquids is developed. A leak in a double shell tank is seen as one of the biggest setbacks to the cleanup program at Hanford in the last decade.

Workers tell KING they first saw signs of the new leak location on February 24 and confirmed it with a video inspection on March 3. This is the third identified leak location in the massive 1 million gallon underground storage tank known as AY-102.

This tank has been at the center of a KING 5 investigation launched last year. The investigators exposed the government contractor in charge of the tank, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) -- ignored evidence of the leak for nearly a year before doing any serious investigating into it.

It’s been nearly two-and-a-half years since recently retired WRPS worker, Mike Geffre, found the first signs of the leak in October, 2011.  To date, there is no solid plan on how to mitigate the leak or pump the contents of the tank to a safer holding vessel. Geffre says the company is stalling.

Read full article at: http://tinyurl.com/kml6tfb

DOE confirms 2nd leak at Hanford as state threatens legal action

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

 August 31, 2012

A second leak of suspected radioactive material at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was recently detected, the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed Friday.

As with the first leak revealed last month, the new material was found in a gap between the walls of a double-walled storage tank (see photos in gallery).

The leak was found during a routine inspection and was described as a three-foot mass that tested positive for high-level radioactivity. 

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Hanford's adverse atmosphere to safety

Seattle Times l June 19, 2011

The federal agency created to oversee safety at U.S. nuclear complexes says the Hanford nuclear reservation fails to promote a safe work environment.

THE Department of Energy and a primary contractor at the Hanford nuclear reservation are not protecting worker health. The failure threatens to compromise the cleanup mission and, ultimately, protection of the public.

Such a blunt assessment did not come from a disgruntled employee or a union rep, but the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, created in the wake of past abuses.

Worker health and safety issues have been as persistent a problem at Hanford as technical delays and shredded budgets. The safety board was invented in the absence of state and federal oversight of worker safety.

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In Hanford saga, no resolution in sight

Hanford failed to protect the people around it by releasing radiation accidentally and deliberately into the air, reaching as far as Idaho and Oregon; and into water- the Columbia River. The U.S. judicial system has failed to give the plaintiffs a fair day in court in a trouble filled, bitter, law suit that has lasted decades.  The Price Anderson Act has worked well to protect the industry from liability, but it's corollary promise- to provide "full and prompt compensation" to victims with valid claims has failed miserably. Going up against a client, the U.S. government, with endless pockets and much to lose if they allow the true risk of radiation exposure to be validated in court, the victims are growing old and getting sicker. Many of them have died. All remaining are stuck in the limbo of an endless trial, that no longer really seems to be about them at all.

"It's been such a burden for my family and friends. I've been so ill," says Sharon Benz, a downwinder with "a carcinoid tumor in her appendix, a heart attack, diabetes, glaucoma, a hysterectomy, hives covering her body — and thyroid disease... I know the attorneys are doing their jobs." But after so many years of waiting, she added, "I just get frustrated."

The National Law Journal l Jenna Greene  20 June, 2011

In some ways, Carole Means' teenage years on a farm in southeastern Wash ing ton state in the 1950s sound so wholesome, almost idyllic. She ate homegrown fruit and vegetables, fish from the nearby Columbia River, and drank milk from the family cows that grazed along its banks.

The farm commanded a view across the river of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the world's first full-scale plutonium reactor. Hanford produced most of the material for the U.S. arsenal of nuclear bombs, including the one dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. For local residents, the plant was a source of pride — their unique contribution to winning World War II — and of jobs, employing 50,000 people at its peak.

It was also catastrophically toxic. Starting in 1944, the plant silently released huge amounts of radiation into the air, water and soil — sometimes intentionally, the government now admits.

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Digging into WA nuclear plant seismic risks

New seismological evidence suggests that Hanford may be on even shakier ground than already feared. While the DOE struggles with massive clean up problems at what has been called the "most contaminated place in the western hemishpere", a paleoseismologist from the US Geological Survey finds evidence suggesting the area around Hanford may be at risk of major earthquake activity:

"A new paper by Sherrod and Richard Blakely accepted for publication May 2 highlights compelling new evidence that the Yakima Fold and Thrust belt may be much more seismically active than ling thought. If true, these findings could reshape assumptions used in assessments of nuclear safety...the Cascadia Subduction Zone has in the past and could again produce quakes similar to what struck Japan."

The idea of an earthquake like the one which helped cripple Japan's Fukushima reactors occurring near Hanford boggles the mind. Hanford already exists on the brink of disaster, with waste leaking out of every orifice. And unlike most nuclear reactor sites, an enormous part of Hanford's waste is plutonium.

Spot.us l Bill Lascher  20 May, 2011

 Research Shakes Up Seismic Knowledge Near Northwest Nuclear Plant

Brian Sherrod's a professional fault finder.

The United States Geological Survey paleoseismologist scrambles up a shrub-covered hillside outside Yakima, WA, points a few hundred yards away and describes how a long stretch of slightly off-colored soil could change perceptions of an entire region's earthquake readiness. 

Three years from now, when the latest iterations of the USGS's national hazard maps appear, they'll likely include new information about the Yakima Fold and Thrust Belt. That's a crinkled landscape of anticlines and synclines – hill-like folds of the earth's crust – spread across Central and Eastern Washington, including the spot where Sherrod now stands and, further east, the home of the Northwest's only commercial nuclear reactor. 

A new paper by Sherrod and Richard Blakely accepted for publication May 2 highlights compelling new evidence that the Yakima Fold and Thrust belt may be much more seismically active than ling thought. If true, these findings could reshape assumptions used in assessments of nuclear safety, just as regulators try to reassess the controversial energy source in the wake of the 
March 11 Tohoku earthquake in Japan. 

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