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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 PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:43AM (#42995143) Journal

    "Clean, safe and .too cheap to meter!"

    Is there any reason why we shouldn't reduce our current nuclear arsenal to something less than 1000 warheads, instead of replacing them with new ones? Can anyone think of a plausible situation where we would need 1000 nuclear warheads?

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:47AM (#42995181)

    Regulations? This was a government-run site!

    As to funding, they are actively cleaning up the site.

    Oversight is another mystery - the cleanup is being done by a collaboration between the Department of Energy, the EPA, and Washington State. You have 3 distinct agencies from both state and federal governments "overseeing" the project.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @11:38AM (#42995383)

    Pretty much. I live there. Don't work there but have lots of friends who do. The leak has been known for a while and this story is just finally starting to reach critical mass (ha!) now that we have a new governor that takes it more seriously. The immediate solution is for them to stop cutting funding -- we have 2/3rds of all the high level waste spills here and we get 1/3rd of the cleanup money. It goes back and forth we red tape and lawsuits with the contractors not meeting goals because they don't have funding, so the govt tries to penalize, they try to sue back due to lack of funding... nothing gets done.

    A *real* solution here involves our politicians getting off their asses and coming up with a permanent storage solution, which will never happen. Nobody wants that in their back yard. The vitrification plant? I have a friend who's a lead engineer out there and they're making it up/solving problems AS THEY GO. They're not even sure if it's going to work yet! There's no detailed plan, although to be fair that's how the Manhattan project ran in the first place.

    Also, Hanford was much more than refining the plutonium for the Fat Man bomb. In fact that reactor is clean, they give tours now (I've been inside it). They invented the process and refined the majority of the stuff for everything in our nuclear arsenal now, and it had several experimental reactors out there to test breeder reactors, fast flux reactors, making medial isotopes, etc. A few of which were never even finished.

  • by peon_a-z,A-Z,0-9$_+! ( 2743031 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:29PM (#42995623)

    Another one-sentence post, somehow instantly modded up.

    Anyways, I'll bite.

    What makes you want to get rid of this material? Plutonium, sure it has a long half-life, but is that a bad thing? As a transuranic artificial element, Plutonium is one of the most expensive materials on Earth primarily in the fact that you can't put a price on it in many cases. So now you may ask, "So what if it costs a lot. Things can cost a lot and not be useful."

    How excited were you and the rest of this Slashdot community when the Mars Rover Curiosity began is successful exploration a few months back? This piece of science and engineering happens to run off of a "Plutonium battery" if you will Curiosity [wikipedia.org], called an RTG RTG Explanation [wikipedia.org]

    O.K. so now you may ask "Great, we don't actually WANT to get rid of Plutonium, but what about all those other nasty chemicals? Surely they validate my unfounded convictions that I'm espousing with somehow successfully modded posts?"

    Well, actually, we have answers for that too, it just so happens they have largely been illegal in the United States for much of the time since their invention. As a leader in the Nuclear Industry at its birth, the United States outlawed reprocessing with the thinking that other countries would follow suit. As history stands, this was not the case, and instead of "storing" things like we politically decided to do in the mid-seventies we could easily reprocess them based upon one of the many methods depending on the situation Nuclear Reprocessing. [wikipedia.org]

    So, what's the real challenge, you ask? It's convincing uneducated people about the science ACTUALLY behind everything Nuclear such that they don't hold uneducated convictions such as yourself and end actual technological progress.

  • My understanding (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Scarred Intellect ( 1648867 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:32PM (#42995637) Homepage Journal

    Talking with the guys that do this at a job fair.

    First, what could take so freaking long to clean stuff up? "Stuff you don't understand." Right, bureaucracy, nothing else.

    Anyway, the waste from Hanford was stored in Single-Shelled Tanks (SSTs), until they later started storing it in Double-Shelled Tanks (DST's). The SST's are leaking, we know this, so this is not news. What's currently being done is pumping the waste from the leaking SST's into the DST's and cleaning the SST's. They do this because the vitrification plant is not built yet.

    They're out of DST's. So now they have to decide whether to build more DST's or expedite the vit plant. Basically a few million dollars now, a few billion dollars now, or a few million dollars now AND a few billion dollars later.

    I got to school at the WSU campus nearby, and this is all I've been able to get someone to tell me. Correct me if I'm wrong. I probably am.

    Oh. Right. Safety. This stuff's NASTY. That's been holding it up for over 20 years.

  • by kermidge ( 2221646 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @12:56PM (#42995767) Journal

    Yeah, but.... government is not monolithic. NRC is not hand in glove with EPA, for instance. Each branch and agency has its own fiercely-defended rice bowl. I'm not saying collusion isn't possible, only that it's not automatic.

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

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @03:53PM (#42996793)

    How do you propose moving millions of gallons of nuclear waste to Yucca mountain? The primary problem at Hanford is cleanup, not storage. When it's all sitting in secure containers, ready to move to a storage facility... then we'll talk about Yucca mountain. Hundreds of other (commercial, private, though heavily regulated) facilities manage to store their nuclear waste without contaminating groundwater. The government does owe private industry a storage facility, but it sure would be nice for them to demonstrate that they can operate one.

What is research but a blind date with knowledge? -- Will Harvey