Monday, February 25, 2013

More Tanks Leaking at Hanford

More tanks are leaking at Hanford Nuclear Reservation than first disclosed said Washington State governor Jay Inslee on Friday. Last week the US Energy Department said only one tank was leaking, now there are six tanks said to be discharging radioactive waste liquid with a distinct possibility that more of the 177 underground tanks are infirm. One hundred forty-nine of these are single shell. An estimated 1 million gallons of waste has seeped into the groundwater and will eventually reach the Columbia River about five miles away. Hanford manufactured plutonium for the US nuclear arsenal before production stopped in 1988 and is considered to be one of the most contaminated locations on Earth. It represents two-thirds of the United State's high-level radioactive waste by volume. A clean-up of the site has been underway for years, but only ten tanks have been emptied [photo]. A planned facility to dispose of radioactive wastes at the site by vitrification is years behind schedule with operation starting not until 2019.

salmon spawning near Hanford 
Officials are quick to blame the possible sequester of federal money beginning in March as hampering containment efforts. However, Hanford's clean-up has a marred record of delay going back decades. Hanford Site was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. Plutonium was manufactured in the "B Reactor" at Hanford for use in the "Fat Man" bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. The Department of Energy identified tank T-111 with a capacity of 530,000 gallons and built in 1943-44 as an "assumed leaker" in 1979. The designed life of these older tanks is twenty years. T-111 still contains 447,000 gallons of radioactive sludge. An estimated 27 million gallons of salt cake and sludge remain in single shell tanks. In August of last year a leak from a double shell tank, AY-102 was detected. The waste was originally scheduled to be removed by 2018, but now the revised schedule is 2040. Over the years about of a third of the underground storage tanks have leaked waste into the soil and groundwater. If the clean-up does not proceed on schedule, the waste is expected to reach the river in 12 to 50 years.