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USA’s Energy Dept’s failure to monitor Hanford nuclear site, parts not inspected for 50 years

Parts of Hanford nuclear waste site have not been inspected in 50 years, government auditors say, The former defense site in Washington state has a troubled past. The latest lapse involves the Energy Department’s failure to analyze the cause of a tunnel collapse.WP, By Aaron Gregg Feb. 22, 2020

Companies responsible for cleaning up a decommissioned plutonium plant in rural Washington state failed to conduct comprehensive safety checks at facilities containing nuclear waste, even after a 2017 tunnel collapse put surrounding communities on lockdown, government auditors reported Thursday.

The report about the Hanford nuclear waste site raises new concerns about environmental and safety risks posed by one of the United States’ worst toxic waste sites.

The Government Accountability Office found that the Energy Department waived a “root cause analysis” of the tunnel collapse because it was asked to do so by the contractor handling inspections, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering. The department did conduct a separate review to determine weaknesses and risks related to contaminated facilities, but that evaluation “was based largely on old data” and “did not include any physical or non-physical inspection” to flag facilities for cleanup, the office reported.

Sitting in a rural area of southwestern Washington, the Hanford site was once the U.S. military’s primary source of enriched plutonium used in nuclear warheads, including one of the weapons dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Hanford’s workforce once numbered more than 50,000 people. Plutonium production ended in 1987.

Parts of the site have not been entered or inspected in more than 50 years, the Government Accountability Office reported, suggesting there could be additional safety risks of which the Energy Department is not aware. And the inspections that were carried out found structural problems severe enough that they “could lead to the potential release of hazardous or nuclear materials” at five of 18 facilities there, the office reported……..

Since the late 1980s, the Energy Department has worked with teams of contractors on the monumental task of dealing with radioactive waste that accumulated over several decades. The massive scale and longevity of the weapons production activities at Hanford mean cleanup efforts are likely to continue for most of the next century.

The project has been fraught with waste, with milestones continually pushed back as contractors experienced difficulties. Earlier reports found that the department spent more than $19 billion over 25 years on “treatment and disposition of 56 million gallons of hazardous waste” without actually treating any hazardous waste. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2011 at a cost of $4.3 billion.

Besides the cost overruns, the haphazard way in which some waste was stored has made cleanup a hazardous task for the thousands of workers…….

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) scolded the Energy Department for its handling of the nuclear waste cleanup effort in a letter to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. The letter notes that the department has accepted all of the office’s recommendations but says those changes are not sufficient to protect the lives of workers and citizens throughout the region.

Wyden blamed the 2017 tunnel collapse on the Energy Department’s failure to conduct comprehensive inspections.

The tunnel collapse “seems largely due to a failure of [the Energy Department] and its contractors to independently verify the tunnel’s physical condition ― a state of affairs replicated over many years across the site’s facilities,” Wyden wrote.

February 24, 2020 - Posted by | safety, USA, wastes

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