Slow Leak in Hanford Nuke Tank

Monday, October 29, 2012 @ 03:10 PM gHale

A slow leak in the oldest double-shell waste tank at the Hanford nuclear reservation is allowing highly radioactive and hazardous waste to leak into the space between the inner and outer shells, said officials at the Department of Energy (DoE).

The good news is no waste has leaked from the outer shell into the soil beneath the underground tank on the south-central Washington reservation, DoE said.

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Earlier testing showed some of the material seen between the two walls of the tank was radioactive waste. Now DOE has confirmed a leak, however, they do not know the exact amount.

The tank is one of 28 double-shell containers used to hold waste from older, leak-prone single-shell tanks. They hold 56 million gallons of radioactive waste from past production of weapons plutonium until they can treat it for disposal.

The tank is 40 years old and contains about 850,000 gallons of sludge and liquid waste.

Plans call for continued twice-weekly visual inspections using cameras and regular checks of liquid levels inside the primary tank, said Tom Fletcher, assistant manager for the Tank Farms Project.

Fletcher added his people are “working collaboratively” with the state Ecology Department to determine what to do next and to “ensure that we are effectively protecting the public and the environment.”

Routine monitoring has not detected leaks in any of the other double-shell tanks, DoE said. Expanded inspections on six other tanks similar to the one that is leaking are now in the works.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup expected to last decades.

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