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Over Easy: Hanford’s Radioactive Waste Storage Tank AY-102

3:59 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

Rendering of Hanford's Double-Shell Tanks

Rendering of Hanford Double Shell Tank by RiverProtection on flickr

Newly appointed US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is scheduled to be in southeastern Washington State today, for his first visit to the Hanford site. During his April confirmation hearing he told Oregon Senator Ron Wyden that it would be “unacceptable” to maintain the status quo regarding cleanup, at Hanford. With what has come to light only recently about various government contractors pissing up a rope while collecting bonuses as the tanks leak, this is a massive understatement.

Hanford weapons production reactors produced the plutonium for the Trinity implosion-design device fission test in the desert, the Fat Man atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki in 1945, and a nuclear arsenal that includes tens of thousands of warheads. Today, Hanford is home to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste, stored in 177 underground tanks, in sets of tank farms. The amount of waste at Hanford represents two thirds of the nuclear waste in the entire US.

The toxicity of the waste in Hanford tanks is such that the amount of sludge that fits onto the leg of a fruit fly is considered toxic. In fact, dozens of acres of the site have been shut down because fruit flies that first visited some sludge then went to the workers’ dining areas to dine on the food and so, the fruit flies had to be killed.

Hanford has two types of waste storage tanks: single shell and double shell. The single shell tanks that were designed to last twenty years are the oldest; they were mostly made in the 1940s and 1950s. They are made of an inner lining of steel surrounded by concrete, and 149 of them are in trouble. Half have failed and leaked upwards of a million gallons of radioactive liquid into the groundwater that leads to the Columbia River. There is no way to get to a leak underneath one of these giant tanks other than to remove it, and since the government has not shown a whole lot of excitement about doing this, these tanks are being monitored. There are currently six leakers among the single hull tanks.

What has come to the public’s attention recently, through this government report is that a newer double shell tank designed in the late 1960s to last much longer than the single shell tanks, tank AY-102 (in the AY double shell tank farm), is leaking to the annulus. The leak is likely due to some corrosion involving an enormous heat load at the bottom of this particular tank. The leak has escaped the inner wall of its heated home, and now challenges the outer wall of this tank. The annulus is the two-foot hollow space between the layers, and the outer wall is also the last wall. Tank AY-102 has been triaged to importance, because it was supposed to be a feeder tank that held a collection of toxic waste from other tanks, and then piped it to the Waste Treatment Plant for vitrification (processed into a solid and stable glass). AY-102 already holds more than 800,000 gallons of mixed liquid toxic waste.

The problems at the moment are 1) the Waste Treatment Plant does not exactly exist due to multiple design and technical problems and 2) It did not occur to anyone that AY-102, the feeder tank, would ever leak, but it did. Now, the government is saying that it will be another six years or so, before AY-102 can be pumped out. In October of 2011, leak detection instruments showed evidence of a leak, and an alarm went off. The government contractor had no plan in place for this. AY-102 contains, among other things, more of the byproduct Strontium-90 than any other tank at Hanford, and this byproduct has a tendency to sink to the bottom of the tank and then boil everything around it. There was no Alarm Response Procedure (ARP) in place, as the video here explains:

Not only was there no ARP in place from the contractor, the same contractor also spent millions of dollars for futile work to the tank, preparing it for being the ultimate feeder tank that it can never be. Both some of the workers for the contractor as well as the Department of Energy knew this, but the contractor pressed on with unnecessary work anyway. One can not help but assume that it was lucrative in this situation to fiddle while Rome burns.

While Dr. Moniz visits Hanford for the first time and the finger pointing begins, the Hanford ‘downwinders’ with cancer fight for reasonable settlements through the courts, but there is also this:

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Over Easy: The Treachery at Hanford

3:57 am in Uncategorized by Crane-Station

DOE Hanford B Reactor Today
DOE Hanford B Reactor, by United States Department of Energy, via Wikimedia Commons

As part of atomic weapons development during the secretive Manhattan Project, Hanford B Reactor at the Hanford site, produced the plutonium that filled the belly of the ‘Fat Man‘ atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. Hanford reached peak production during the Cold War years, and it also produced material for weapons during President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative in the early 80s.

In 1989, Hanford switched to cleanup efforts. While mostly decommissioned, the site hosts one nuclear power generating station, called the Columbia Generating Station, that has a boiling water reactor, supplied by General Electric (GE).

Hanford Nuclear Reservation remains the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere, and is a superfund site that, after nearly a quarter of a century has Pacific Northwest residents and officials pressing for answers. The amount of contamination is astonishing, involving 56 million gallons of liquid radioactive sludge in underground containers, six of which have been determined to be leaking. The cleanup is now estimated to take 40 years, at a cost of 100 billion dollars.

Hanford is located in Richland, in southeastern Washington State, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. Due to the site’s location on the Columbia, residents are justifiably concerned for the future of the spectacular Columbia River and the Columbia River Valley. Commenting on the complexity of cleanup, the United States Environmental Protection Agency states:

The operations at Hanford created one of the largest and most complex cleanup projects in the U.S. Weapons production resulted in more than 43 million cubic yards of radioactive waste, and over 130 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris. Approximately 475 billion gallons of contaminated water was discharged to the soil. Some of the contaminants have made it to groundwater under the site. Over 80 square miles of groundwater is contaminated to levels above groundwater protection standards.

To digress for a moment, it is nearly impossible to conceive of the magnitude of something we have not experienced. What do these numbers mean? Contemplating a billion of anything is like contemplating outer space; there is a point where the mind renders the numbers meaningless. Some EPA water trivia adds perspective to the stunning amount of waste:

Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day.

Nearly one-half of the water used by Americans is used for thermoelectric power generation.

In one year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons (indoors and outside).

It takes six and a half years for the average American residence to use the amount of water required to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool (660,000 gallons).

The United States Department of Energy (USDOE) oversees the bulk of the management for Hanford cleanup, and the US Environmental Protection Agency lists several government superfund site partners here. There are also various government contractors that manage the tank farms and other cleanup processes. Despite government and news agency statements to the contrary, residents have come to realize that: 1) cleanup has not progressed as thought 2) tanks are leaking 3) Hanford officials hid leak evidence from advisory panel 4) the site poses safety hazards to the workers.

With that in mind and turning attention to Bechtel National Incorporated as one example, Hanford can be viewed as a poster child for everything that is wrong with predatory capitalism and influence peddling. In what now looks to be a betrayal of trust, billions of dollars have poured into flawed efforts at cleanup, over a number of years. Dr. Walt Tamosaitis, who is featured in the Vimeo clip, was fired from Bechtel for being a Hanford whistleblower and expressing (fifty) technical and safety concerns, “challenging one of their programs for which they were trying to get 5 million dollars in fee.”

Bechtel National is a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor that is “charged with the design, construction, and start up of the Waste Treatment Plant at the Site.” In an article titled Hanford Nuclear Waste Cleanup Plant May Be Too Dangerous, Scientific American explains:

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