Should Energy build more waste storage tanks at Hanford?

Blog post by Theresa Labriola, Riverkeeper's Hanford Coordinator—

Last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee added his name to the growing list of officials who want the Department of Energy (Energy) build more giant waste storage tanks at Hanford to keep environmental cleanup on schedule. He joins the Hanford Advisory Board and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber who have already asked for a plan to build more double shell tanks. Currently, Energy stores 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical nuclear waste in 149 single shell and 28 double shell underground storage tanks. Sixty-seven single shell tanks have already leaked more than one million gallons of waste into the ground, and one double shell tank has a leak in its inner shell.

Energy is approaching three deadlines outlined in a court-enforced consent decree: to empty sixteen single shell tanks by 2014, begin emptying five more single shell tanks by 2017, and complete emptying these tanks by 2022. But, they face a double whammy. Delays in building the waste treatment plant, which will turn this hazardous tank waste into solid glass will result in delays in removing waste from the single shell tanks. Energy can transfer some of the waste to double shell tanks, but they may lack enough storage space to hold all of the waste.

Other officials are concerned that building new double shell tanks will take funding and attention away from the waste treatment plan. New tanks could cost $100 million each and take five to seven years to build. It’s a classic catch-22. What do you think?