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Hanford’s unending nuclear woes

Hanford continues to have truckload of woes ever a place were cursed, it’s the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The last thing cleanup managers needed was a new project.

But the lifespan of rail car tunnels designed to temporarily store radioactive material is much shorter than the half-life of the waste itself, as witnessed by the 20-by-20-foot hole that was spotted above one of the caverns on Tuesday morning.

The two tunnels were built more than 50 years ago as a stopgap measure. Today, there is still no permanent solution as the cleanup drags on, with administration after administration claiming their commitment to safety as it pushes back deadlines.

The feds have spend $19 billion at Hanford, and the deadline for completion is 2060, or 115 years after the first plutonium for a nuclear explosion was produced. It’s a national embarrassment, with serious consequences for this region.

Workers are plugging the hole of the partially collapsed tunnel with a sand and soil mix. Fifty-four truckloads were dumped as of Wednesday night. No airborne radioactivity has been detected. The tunnel, constructed of wood and concrete, has stored eight rail cars filled with contaminated material since the 1960s, the Tri-City Herald reported. The other tunnel is larger, containing 28 rail cars filled with waste.

The fact that radioactive material is still being stored in such a way says everything about the failure of the federal government to come up with a permanent solution. A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy report said the tunnels were susceptible to earthquakes or deterioration, and the nearby Yakama Nation was warned, the Associated Press reported. The tribe says nothing was done.

Earlier reports also warned the tunnels would deteriorate due to time and radiation.

The state of Washington has filed a legal order outlining its expectations, including a plan for the safe storage of materials in those tunnels.

The tunnels aren’t even the worst of it. A total of 177 tanks with 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge are buried beneath Hanford and close to the Columbia River. At least 67 tanks have leaks. If the Columbia River were to be contaminated, it would be catastrophic for the entire Northwest.

The long-term plan has been to convert the waste into glass logs by a process known as vitrification. The logs would be put into permanent storage deep beneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But the planned $17 billion vitrification plant has been plagued by design and safety concerns. Politics has stymied the Yucca repository. Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who served as Senate majority leader, blocked it.

In yet another twist, a recent Government Accountability Office report advises abandoning vitrification and encasing the waste in a cement-like mixture. It’s always something.

President Donald Trump’s initial budget increased U.S. Energy Department spending on cleanups, from $6.1 billion to $6.5 billion. New Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has much to learn about Hanford, and he will be counted on to follow up on the tunnel breach.

But it takes a truckload of faith to believe the curse will be lifted.


May 13, 2017 - Posted by | safety, USA, wastes

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