In the midst of evaluating how to proceed with clean-up at Hanford, Washington's Department of Ecology (Ecology) is facing two major problems:1) a double-shelled dangerous waste storage tank may be leaking 2) the Waste Treatment Plant faces severe unanswered technical problems
Double-Shelled Tank Leak
In August, the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) acknowledged that it had discovered material in between the inner and outer shells of a tank containing highly dangerous waste from Hanford’s nuclear weapons production process. Click here to see USDOE slides from a recent presentation about this possible leak.
During recent hearings, dozens of commenters urged Ecology to get a “Plan B” if, in fact, Hanford tanks are shown to be leaking more than previously known.
Currently, USDOE and Ecology are counting on Hanford’s tanks to contain dangerous waste for decades to come.
Waste Treatment Plant Design Problems
The engineering director for Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) announced this August that Bechtel has failed to resolve key design questions about Hanford’s most expensive project. The WTP facility is supposed to convert dangerous nuclear and chemical waste into glass logs, and several whistle-blowers have urged the USDOE to re-evaluate key components of the project’s design, citing potential failures in mixing and handling dangerous nuclear waste.
According to Gary Brunson, the Engineering Division Director for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, Bechtel International can no longer be relied upon to design and construct a successful facility. In essence, the current design of the WTP has severe unresolved technical problems, including likely corrosion within the facility and potential failures in tanks that are supposed to mix highly radioactive waste.
In summary, if Hanford’s tanks release dangerous waste into soils and groundwater, and if the Waste Treatment fails to operate as planned, Hanford will pose a serious, long-term threat to the Columbia River. The clean-up is too important to fail, but currently we lack a back-up plan.
Looking forward, Ecology should use its proposed Dangerous Waste Permit to address how it will deal with potential failures in existing tanks and the planned WTP.