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Six of Hanford's Nuclear Waste Tanks Leaking Badly 221

SchrodingerZ writes "A recent review of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state (where the bulk of Cold War nuclear material was created) has found that six of its underground storage tanks are leaking badly. Estimations say each tank is leaking 'anywhere from a few gallons to a few hundred gallons of radioactive material a year.' Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, said in a statement on Friday, 'Energy officials recently figured out they had been inaccurately measuring the 56 million gallons of waste in Hanford's tanks.' The Hanford cleanup project has been one of the most expensive American projects for nuclear cleanup. Plans are in place to create a treatment plant to turn the hazardous material into less hazardous glass (proposed to cost $13.4 billion), but for now officials are trying just to stop the leaking from the corroded tanks. Today the leaks do not have an immediate threat on the environment, but 'there is [only] 150 to 200 feet of dry soil between the tanks and the groundwater,' and they are just five miles from the Colombia River."
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Six of Hanford's Nuclear Waste Tanks Leaking Badly

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:28AM (#42995079)

    These radioactive leaks are nothing to worry about. All it takes for Congress to actually do something about proper funding, regulations & oversight is a major disaster. How many people have been killed so far? None? Um, well, gee, I guess we'll have to wait until a lot of people die, or a politician or celebrity gets sick.

  • Yucca Mountain (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lazuli42 ( 219080 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:33AM (#42995103) Homepage Journal

    How much of this could have been avoided if Harry Reid and President Obama had not derailed the Yucca Mountain project? And if groups like Greenpeace weren't so effective in opposing solutions to nuclear waste storage? They cheered the end of the Yucca Mountain project and called its supporters morons. Where are we now?

  • by peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! ( 2743031 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @11:50AM (#42995437)

    LWRs produce plutonium as a byproduct.

    ...and then this Plutonium is contained within the Spent Nuclear Fuel on-site until another Yucca Mountain proposal goes through or we recycle the material.

    Hanford's original purpose was solely to produce weapons grade Plutonium (different than a small amount of Plutonium in spent fuel) for use in the weapons program. The resulting waste was stored in these canisters which are being mentioned in the article. Just because two different actions of man utilize the same resource does not mean that their intentions are identical.

    If you have any more confusion relating Nuclear Weapons to Nuclear Power as it pertains to this article post below or perhaps read the Hanford article on Wikipedia to learn some of what I just said and more Hanford Site: Wikipedia []

  • Re:Yucca Mountain (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! ( 2743031 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @11:58AM (#42995473)

    From the Wikipedia for Yucca, Yucca Mountain was...

    ...for spent nuclear reactor fuel and other high level radioactive waste...

    (Italics added)

    In the Nuclear Industry, the byproducts of the Plutonium production situation at Hanford is what we would refer to as high level radioactive waste.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:35PM (#42995655)

    Indeed the problems in Japan would certainly be almost impossible with current designs.

    We should really deal with the problems at hand rather than espouse the virtues of things that do not yet exist. In fact, a non-negligible percentage of currently operating nuke plants in the US absolutely could suffer a catastrophic disaster like Fukushima –not from tsunami, but from earthquake or perhaps terrorism, and in a similar fashion (if the plant loses power and it isn't restored before the batteries die, they'll experience the same form of meltdown).

    Please come up with a safe solution for current problems, and cease the handwaving dismissal of these problems because more modern on the drawing board designs won't have the same flaws. Building a plant that can't melt down like Fukishima does NOTHING to fix the damage done by Fukushima or the very real possibility of a Fukushima-scale accident occurring at currently operating plants.

  • Unsolvable problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lars -1 ( 308687 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:52PM (#42995741)

    The nuclear waste problem was the biggest driver for germany's nuclear exit decision, for 30 years this was discussed and determined to be basically unsolvable. (The incident in japan led to a re-think of the exit-of-the-exit decision, but the doubts about waste handling had been there at all times).

    To me, this is nuclear's biggest threat, and whenever I see discussions on slashdot this does not really seem to be an issue to US citizens at all. Why is this the case? Are these problems properly addressed in school and media? In germany, we have constantly very critical journalism regarding nuclear waste disposal, as we also have a site where waste is leaking and this proves to be a huge and expensive problem. Generally, storing waste for 10.000 years in a safe manner is not considered to be possible. (And think about the costs which occur in those timelines).

    When reading slashdot, I always get the impression that people still think nuclear has a future, and that we simply have not got the right technology in place yet. To me, nuclear has been a dead end for years, and its only a matter of time that everyone needs to switch to renewables (which would happen in 20 years max). Is nuclear really considered as a real option by the general US population? Are the implications properly educated? Total costs of waste disposal and storage and the risks which remain?


  • Re:Yucca Mountain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:54PM (#42995749)

    Yucca mountain could not handle the millions of gallons of waste at Hanford, even if you could find a a way to transport it safely. The largest-scale part of the problem is the roughly 10x20 mile patch of contaminated groundwater, for which Yucca would do nothing.

    But step back from numbers for a moment and just use some reasoning... if they can pick it up and bring it to Yucca, then it's not an expensive cleanup issue, is it? Sure, it's no fun to build on-site storage - but it certainly doesn't have much to with cleanup.

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:55PM (#42995761)

    Unbelievably, the responses so far are that the government wasn't being overseen by enough other government. Of course, then you need government to oversee the government that oversees the government.

  • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @01:40PM (#42995983)

    Reality is, it's likely that it's not the radioactivity that's most dangerous. The real issue is heavy metals and those things generally containing entire heavy end of periodic table. Stuff that is REALLY toxic.

    Radioactivity from a little leak into a huge river is nonexistent in terms of danger. Toxic heavy metals on the other hands can poison a river even with fairly small presence.

  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @02:55PM (#42996415)

    Different kinds of plutonium -- Pu-238 is made in special isotope reactors by exposing Neptunium targets to a neutron flux and this is the isotope that is used in radiotethermal generators (RTGs) as carried by the Curiosity rover, the Cassini probe, the Voyager probes etc. It has a short halflife (87 years) and emits a lot of decay heat but only releases alpha radiation making it easy to shield.

    Power reactors produce Pu-239 and Pu-240 by adding neutrons to U-238 which makes up 95% plus of fresh nuclear fuel rods. Most of the Pu produced this way is fissioned during the fuel burn cycle but there's always some left when refuelling is carried out. Reprocessing of fuel allows this Pu to be removed and/or recycled into MOX (Mixed Oxide) fuel elements along with fresh U-235.

    Reprocessing of power station fuel was thought to be a nuclear weapons proliferation danger until it was realised that regular light-water reactor designs, the most common power generating choice, produced fuel hopelessly contaminated with Pu-240 which caused any attempt to build a weapon to be so problematic that it was simpler for any nation wanting nukes to develop separate non-power reactor facilities to produce purer forms of Pu-239 by short-cycle exposure of U-238 metal to neutrons.

    The reprocessing ban in the States was overturned by the Reagan administration, I believe but it's a very expensive process to carry out and freshly-mined uranium is very cheap. The growing costs of storage may encourage the US to take up reprocessing in the future, to deal with the Hanford mess if nothing else, since reprocessing reduces the volume of actual waste considerably -- a reactor refuelling operation usually involves a hundred tonnes of fuel elements but less than a tonne of that will be actual waste actinides after storage for a couple of years in a spent fuel pool to allow the more active and dangerous short-halflife materials to decay away. Anyone thinking of investing a few billion in a reprocessing plant has to consider that a future administration might arbitrarily reinstate the Carter-era reprocessing ban. Other nations such as France, Russia, Britain and Japan which reprocess fuel are more stable politically speaking and so can commit to long-term planning for this sort of operation.

  • by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @02:59PM (#42996437) Homepage

    We shouldn't take Hanford as a prototypical example of "The Nuclear Industry."

    Remember, the people who planned, funded, and ran Hanford were in the process of building devices -designed- to kill people by the millions, and designed to be used in circumstances when people, by the millions, were dying here in the USA. Perhaps we should not forgive them, but we should understand their attitude that poisoning a few workers or a few thousand fish was just not on their radar. This was, in their understanding, war.

    What Hanford was, and is, is a very brutal view of the simple fact that in war, lots of people are hurt, maimed, killed, poisoned, burned, and other forms of mayhem committed upon them.

    Now, we as a nation and as a world, have the responsibility and opportunity to clean up our own mess, a mess that was caused by people who sincerely believed that a philosophical point and an economic model was worth murdering countless people. If nothing else, we need to learn from these experiences. We need to not forget that matters of ideology and economic theory do not count as much as living, suffering humans.

  • by anorlunda ( 311253 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @03:20PM (#42996547) Homepage

    I read once that 98% of America's high level nuclear waste comes from military programs.

    Why is it then that 98% of the hot air voiced is about civilian uses?

  • by jbburks ( 853501 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @09:04PM (#42998925)
    The problem is: when WW II and the first part of the Cold War were going on, Hanford was underregulated. The goal was to beat the Soviets in the race to build bombs. They should never have put that waste in single-lined tanks with no plan to ever get it out. Now, the site is OVER regulated. The tanks are leaking, but no one will let them take it out of the tanks unless every part of the plan is 150% safe and they have a plan for storing the waste for ten million years. Meanwhile, the tanks are rusting and the waste is leaking. Why not do what we can to get the waste out and stabilized rather than awaiting perfection that will never come.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @07:02AM (#43001431)

    You're cynical about congress. But, people really don't vote for these issues in any kind of numbers. Not when there are much more important single wedge issues to get irate about. Also, people don't want to be informed about this until it starts retarding babies or dramatically increasing cancer rates. And then, they seem to only think it happens to them when it happens to them.

    I much more blame the electorate than congress for this lack of attention.

    I, the voter, have a full-time job and don't have the time to learn about all these issues in detail. The whole point of electing representatives is that it becomes their job. They can devote the time that I cannot, to learn about these issue in detail so they can make an informed decision on it. Whether it be a vote on a bill, or even just deciding what's important and what's not.

    If I were well-informed enough to vote on this type of issue, we wouldn't need to elect representatives. We could just hold a direct electronic democratic vote by the entire electorate on each individual issue.

    So it's either a failure by our representatives, or a failure of our system of government. It is not a failure of the electorate.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell