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Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ColtCarbine, Apr 11, 2013.

  1. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion

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    Published time: April 03, 2013 18:26
    Workers demolish a decommissioned nuclear reactor during the cleanup operations at the Western hemisphere's most contaminated nuclear site in Hanford, Washington state (AFP Photo / Mark Ralston)

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    Accident, Biology, Ecology, Health, Security, USA

    US residents near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may be in grave danger: a nuclear safety board found that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.

    After Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) about the risks posed by the nuclear site, board members relayed their concerns about the potential for hydrogen gas buildup within the walls of a tank – particularly those with double walls.

    "All the double-shell tanks contain waste that continuously generates some flammable gas," the board said in a letter received by Wyden on Monday. "This gas will eventually reach flammable conditions if adequate ventilation is not provided."

    The safety board had previously issued a warning about their concerns, which have not yet been addressed. In September, the board sent a letter to the Department of Energy, claiming that there were no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. The letter, which outlines the concerns shared with Sen. Wyden on Monday, was declassified on Tuesday.

    If the tanks were to explode, there would be flammable releases that would “have considerable radiological consequences, endanger personnel, contaminate portions of the Tank Farms, and seriously disrupt the waste cleanup mission,” the previously classified DFNSB report states.

    Hanford’s double-shelled tanks contain some of the deadliest mixtures of nuclear and chemical waste left over from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been a serious cause of concern, since six of the facility’s tanks were found to be leaking about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. The Department of Energy discovered the leaks years ago, but has failed to address the problem.

    Last September, the safety board recommended that state and federal officials more closely monitor the tanks and increase ventilation. Federal officials have allegedly taken those recommendations into consideration and are working on a plan to address the board’s concerns, the Associated Press reports.

    But despite continuous problems and public health risks associated with the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, construction of a waste treatment plant has been delayed. Such a plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and would be crucial in preventing all of the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground.

    The DFNSB hopes that discussing the very real possibility of an explosion will alarm Department of Energy officials and prompt them to take action. The Hanford site currently holds 56 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste that is leaking into the soil. Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, believes there is no time to waste in regards to the cleanup process.

    "The next Secretary of Energy - Dr. Moniz - needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track, and I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing next week," Wyden said in a statement Tuesday.

    The US government spends about $2 billion each year cleaning up the waste generated by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, about one third of which goes towards the flawed design and construction of the plant. The $2 billion also makes up about one third of the federal government’s nuclear cleanup budget, and costs are only expected to rise.

    Although the DFNSB and Sen. Wyden have long been emphasizing the risks created by the plant, the Department of Energy has long failed to acknowledge the severity of the problem. And after the latest warnings about the very possible risk of a nuclear explosion, the department countered the report.

    “All DSTs are actively ventilated, which means they have blowers and fans to prevent hydrogen gas build-up,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “These ventilation systems are monitored to ensure they are operating as intended.”

    Wyden said he plans to ask tough questions during Moniz's confirmation hearing regarding the future of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
    Yard Dart likes this.
  2. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Wyden has exposed his anal port with that chest thumping exercise. Knows nothing, and won't try to learn.
    ColtCarbine likes this.
  3. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Wyden is a piece of crap, wish he would just go away but the sheep keeping voting him in. He definitely has a rectal cranial inversion...
  4. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey..... Moderator Site Supporter++

    I think that our Gov. Inslee and Wyden are trying to be the squeaky wheel, to shake down the fed for more money to come this way while the dem's still have the fed power to do anything for the left coast contingent... Inslee has been barking about the single wall tanks since he was elected recently (and that issue has been known for years). It is his way of not talking about anything important that actually helps anyone... he is a total dumb ass!! Our sheep are as dumb as your sheep- they drink the same koolaid. @ColtCarbine.
    ColtCarbine likes this.
  5. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member



    The 586 sq. mile Hanford nuclear facility is where the government manufactured plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1943 to 1987. Today there are millions of gallons of highly toxic* nuclear waste stored there, and the containers are leaking. In the year 2000, Bechtel, the same company that has been so helpful in Iraq, was given a contract to clean up Hanford. Note, if you will, that CEO Riley P. Bechtel was appointed in March 2003 to be a member of President Bush’s Export Council and draw any conclusions you wish. There have been a lot of screwups since, but the $ billions keep pouring in to Bechtel no matter how bad its record is. It's Nice work if you can get it.

    So far, only about 1 million gallons of contaminated waste have leaked into the groundwater from the 60 year old underground tanks, and the plume hasn't even reached the nearby Columbia River yet. So the million or so people in the area don't have to worry. And why would you live near a leaking nuke plant anyway...?

    The DOE has only been working on the challenge for about 20 years, so there is hope that the mess will get cleaned up sometime on the 21st century.

    That delay was because the government underestimated the specs on the new waste storage building, a detail which soon halted construction. The initial warnings didn't stop Bechtel from beginning construction and running up bills, but let's be reasonable: Riley is a friend.

    And now, we discover that Bechtel has been a bit lax with the piping in the "black cells. Those are the areas of the treatment plant that will be so radioactive over the next 40 years that no humammal will be able to enter to make repairs. To such things as leaking pipes, for example.

    The current plan is now to pump out those underground tanks into the building that hasn't been built yet, then convert the toxic liquid into glass logs. That process will begin in 2018.

    Meanwhile, internal DOE and Bechtel documents indicate a series of problems with a special tank for processing or scrubbing the nuclear waste. The problems began when Bechtel hired an outside vendor to build it, but when the tank arrived at Hanford it had "cracked stay welds." They were fixed. But then "different types of weld defects" were discovered. Bechtel went ahead and installed the scrubber tank anyway.


    Radioactive contamination in public areas surrounding the Hanford Nuclear Site is higher and more geographically widespread than previously thought. Organizations such as the Government Accountability Project GAP, Boston Chemical Data Corporation and Radio Activist Campaign have documented ssued a number of issued a study that includes the first reports of plutonium in clams and fish in the Columbia River.

    The GAP/BCDC report includes evidence that radiation levels in mulberry trees are higher than previously reported, and that strontium-90 has entered the ecosystem in high levels. In addition to plutonium being found for the first time in fish, increased levels of strontium, mercury, beryllium, uranium, and cesium were detected in aquatic creatures. It was also found that mulberry leaves from the shoreline of the Columbia River at the Hanford perimeter are toxic, indicating that the mulberries themselves may be contaminated. Rodent scats from the test area showed greater than 13-fold elevated levels of strontium 90 compared to downstream areas, indicating that the material has entered the food chain for higher organisms.

    The Hanford Site includes more than 53 million gallons of high-level liquid waste in 177 underground storage tanks, 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel, 12 tons of plutonium in various forms, about 25 million cubic feet of buried or stored solid waste, about 270 billion gallons of groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards. 67 tanks have confirmed leaks. It's all spread out over about 80 square miles, more than 1,700 waste sites, and about 500 contaminated facilities, according to Hanford officials.

    The federal government began construction at the Hanford Nuclear plant located in south-central Washington State in the spring of 1943. Within 18 months it had begun operation of the world's first production-scale nuclear reactor. During World War II's Manhattan Project, a total of three nuclear reactors and two chemical processing plants were built and operated at Hanford. These facilities produced the plutonium that was used in the world's first nuclear explosion, the Trinity test in New Mexico in 1945 and the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki later that year.

    The United States Government has paid billions of dollars to private contractors to oversee the production of nuclear weapons' materials. These contractors include DuPont and General Electric. In the process, vast quantities of nuke pollution, especially iodine-131, were discharged into the air - more than half a million curies** in 1945 alone. The unfortunate inhabitants of the area, who had no idead what was going on (see downwinders), were exposed to airborne radiation radiation in their food, especially milk from goats or cows that grazed on contaminated vegetation.

    However, the government officials did know what was going on. Health officials for the Manhattan Project knew as early as the spring of 1943 that the ingestion of stable, nonradioactive iodine could protect both workers and the public from Iodine-131 exposure. One of these early health officials was Dr. W.D. Norwood, who later served as Hanford's medical director.

    Nevertheless, it was not until 1948 that crude filters were installed on the plant stacks, which did little to stop the radioactive materials and hazardous chemicals spewing into the air and into the Columbia River. Some of these releases were in the form of "hot radioactive particles" that contained plutonium, ruthenium, strontium and cesium. Hanford tracked these particles as far as Idaho, and even into Montana.

    As the Cold War continued, Hanford added eight additional reactors and processing plants to the nuclear reservation. They used the river water to cool the intense heat at the core of the reactors. The water became contaminated with radioactivity, toxic chemicals and excessive amounts of heat, causing radiation to concentrate in the bodies of fish and game animals. Locals were then exposed when they ate the fish or game, drank the water or swam in the river.

    Since 1986, several million pages of Hanford documents have been made available to the public. While much has been learned from this material, many important questions remain. The government has admitted that it has more than seven billion pages that have not been released about the operations of Hanford and the other nuclear weapons plants. Nice reading for a winter night...or on a glowing beach.

    **For reference: the Three Mile Island accident released about 20 Curies.
    *A cupful would kill a roomful of humammals in a few minutes.

    2012 UPDATE:
    The double-shell tanks at Handford are now leaking, in spite of decades of assurances that such an occurence was impossible. Th leak was disclosed in a memo from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Washington State Department of Ecology. Leaks of highly radioactive waste were discovered in two locations, a bit of an awkward situation as the containers were supposed to last another 40 years. Looks like the engineers were wrong.

    The Hanford debacle continues as the DOE issues a new report on the probable cost of really cleaning up the Hanford Nuke. About half of the projecte cost is for work under the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, this is supposed to prevent any problems related to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in 60 year old underground tanks.

    For some parts of Hanford cleanup, decisions have not yet been made about what will be required. For those eight, hot reactors, for example, it will cost another $676 million to tear them down, rather than go with the current plan of letting them cool down for the next 75 years.

    Welcome to the future: A radioactive mouse has escaped from the grounds of Hanford, the decommisioned nuclear complex in southeastern Washington state. After catching a radioactive rabbit on the Hanford nuclear reservation, cleanup workers are now hunting for a radioactive mouse. From the Associated Press: The Tri-City Herald reports radioactive mouse droppings have been found in the same area where the radioactive rabbit droppings were found earlier this month north of Richland. Todd Nelson of Washington Closure Hanford, the cleanup contractor, says no contaminated droppings have been found in areas open to the public. The radioactive rabbit was killed and disposed of as radioactive waste. Officials believe the animals ate or drank cesium at a Hanford site.

    In 2009 there were 33 cases of contaminated animal material found on the 586 square-mile nuclear reservation site.

    Workers cleaning up the nation's most contaminated nuclear site have discovered an area of soil so radioactive it exceeds lethal limits tenfold, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Wednesday with its cleanup contractor.

    The finding represents some of the worst contamination at south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation and highlights the difficulty and danger in cleaning up a site where records about Cold War-era weapons production either weren't kept, were incomplete or maybe, just maybe, were destroyed - accidently.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2015
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