19 More Reasons to Be Worried About the Hanford Nuclear Site

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Common Dreams

19 More Reasons to Be Worried About the Hanford Nuclear Site

Previously undisclosed documents revealed by Sen. Wyden show potential problems with tanks storing high-level nuclear waste

by
Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Problems at the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation continue to unfold.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed that one of the 28 double-shelled tanks storing nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was leaking.

Now, inspection report documents released by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) show that six other double-shelled tanks—which hold roughly 5 million gallons of high-level waste—have similar, significant flaws that could lead to a leak.

In addition, the reviews showed that 13 other double-shelled tanks holding roughly 12 million gallons of high-level waste also posed concerns over their "long-term integrity."

In a letter sent to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on Friday, Wyden wrote, in part:

These 19 tanks together hold upwards of sixteen million gallons of high-level waste. The increased risk to citizens and the environment in the Northwest presented by these newly identified defects is heightened by the inability of DOE to provide any sort of firm schedule for starting or operating the waste treatment plant (WTP) and removing the waste from these and other Hanford tanks. In light of this information, which has apparently been available to the DOE for many months, I am requesting that you prepare an action plan Within 45 days for responding to the increased safety and operational risks associated with these [double shelled tanks] construction flaws, including an assessment of long-term options such the proposal made by [Oregon] Governor Kitzhaberl and [Washington] Governor Inslee to construct new, multi-purpose high-level Waste storage tanks.

In addition to the 28 double-shelled storage tanks, Hanford holds 149 single shelled tanks. According to a report prepared for the DOE in May 2013, 67 are suspected of having leaked roughly 1 million gallons.

A year ago, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said that as much as 1,000 gallons of radioactive sludge may be leaking a year at Hanford, following news that there were six single-shelled underground storage tanks leaking radioactive waste.

Last month a Hanford cleanup subcontractor hired by the federal government, was firedafter calling attention to what she saw as the facility's lack of safety precautions and ignoring of technological flaws.

In addition to risks from any of the 177 storage tanks leaking radioactive waste, a nuclear safety board warned last year that the double-shell tanks posed the potential threat of a hydrogen gas explosion "if adequate ventilation is not provided."

"Watching the U.S. Department of Energy trying to clean-up the Hanford nuclear weapons production site up the Columbia River in Washington is a bit like watching the movie Groundhog Day: The problems at the site repeat over and over," Wyden stated Saturday.

"It’s time to end the ever repeating excuses that mark DOE clean-up efforts at Hanford. It’s time for the movie to be over. It’s time for DOE to tell us what’s going on at Hanford and what it is going to do to respond to growing problems at the site."

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