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Federal Plan Could Reclassify Hanford Nuclear Waste — And Leave it in the Ground

Major Problems at Hanford Nuclear Waste Site – King 5 Reports

 by Anna King Follow and John Notarianni    Follow OPB Jan. 18, 2019  new proposal from the Trump administration could dramatically change the way the government cleans up radioactive tank waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington.

In fall 2018, the Department of Energy released a proposal to downgrade the rating of some of the country’s high-level radioactive waste to a lower status. But critics say it could be bad news for places like Hanford.

The Hanford site in Washington is already “one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in North America,” according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Cleaning up the radioactive waste stored there is an ongoing process, and a federal report due out later this month estimates it will cost more than $240 billion to clean up the site.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Washington state Democrats Gov. Jay Inslee and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have all expressed major concerns with the federal plan.

Reporter Anna King covers Hanford and spoke to OPB “Weekend Edition” host John Notarianni about what’s at stake for waste reclassification.

John Notarianni: How much of the nuclear waste at Hanford could be subject to this reclassification?

Anna King: Congress is asking the U.S. Department of Energy things like, “What are you talking about? How much will this new plan save? And how much radioactive and chemical waste will be left at Hanford?” But so far, there have been few answers from the DOE.

Most at stake is 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge stored in aging underground tanks, not far from the Columbia River.

What’s at stake in this conversation is a proposed shift of some radioactive waste from high-level to low-level classification. What’s the difference?

The main difference between high-level and low-level radioactive waste is currently defined by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. High-level waste is so hazardous that federal law requires it to be stored in a deep geologic repository, a la Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

That’s because it contains highly radioactive material. But that Yucca project has been on hold since the beginning of the Obama administration. Low-level waste could be buried at Hanford in shallow or near-surface disposal facilities under both DOE and NRC regulations.

Some of the tank waste will likely be classified TRU waste — or transuranic — which means it contains extremely long-lived radionuclides, and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires that waste to also be stored in a deep geologic repository. And that waste would have to be taken down to New Mexico to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP — the only place that will take transuranic waste.

State officials and other Hanford watchdogs say they have several major concerns: There’s 56 million gallons of tank waste held in aging underground steel and concrete containers not far from the Columbia River.

Since 2002, the latest plan has been to build a massive plant to treat that waste. The idea is to bind it up in glass logs for long-term storage in a Yucca-type repository.

Sources say that if this was no longer the plan, and the waste was reclassified, that tank waste could be instead made into large blocks of grout and stored at Hanford, or hauled to another state or location and stored in a near-surface waste dump………..

January 21, 2019 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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