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Leaking Tank Cleanup at Hanford to Begin by September 1st

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Area between the walls of tank AY-102 Area between the walls of tank AY-102

HANFORD, WA - The Washington State Department of Ecology has directed the federal government to begin removing radioactive waste from a leaking double-shell tank at Hanford by Sept. 1, 2014.

The state administrative order issued Friday calls for the removal to begin 18 months sooner than proposed. The Department of Energy previously proposed leaking tank cleanup to begin in March of 2016.

Hanford workers first confirmed Tank AY-102 to be leaking into the tank's secondary containment in October 2012. Since then the Department of Ecology has been working with the Department of Energy and their contractor to determine the best way to cleanup the tank.

Tank AY-102 holds about 850,000 gallons of liquid and sludge, high in radioactivity, and require cooling to control waste temperatures. A leak in the tank creates a serious concern about a failure of the critical waste cooling system and an increased risk of leaking into the environment.

"In order to meet legal requirements and to provide public health and environmental protection, the state believes this leaking double-shell tank must be addressed in the most aggressive manner possible," said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. "Waiting another two years, at best, to initiate actions to address this hazardous condition is neither legally acceptable nor environmentally prudent. The state cannot afford further delays on removing waste from this tank."

Among other requirements, the Order directs USDOE to:

  • Submit a report to Ecology within 90 days that evaluates the integrity of the secondary containment system, including the impacts of the waste currently in the annulus.
  • Take monthly samples of liquid from the tank's leak detection pit to address potential leaks to the environment.
  • Conduct weekly video inspections of leaks and monthly video inspections of the annulus.
  • Initiate the removal of solid waste (sludge) no later than Dec. 1, 2015. 
  • Complete removal of enough waste to allow for an inspection to determine the cause of the leak by Dec. 1, 2016.

Failure to comply with this order could result in fines for the federal government.

Department of Ecology spokesperson Dieter Bohrmann says, "The order was necessary in order to more firmly direct the federal government to start pumping waste from this tank much sooner than the plans that they had proposed."

But some local business leaders think government leaders may be getting the wrong message across to people.

"Every time the governor talks about what a dangerous place this is, there's a collateral damage. It's I think over dramatized little bit. Every time that happens, there's one fewer company here or one fewer visitor," said Carl Adrian, Tri-City Development council.

Bohrmann says their goal is to minimize risks to the environment, not to penalize the DOE or the community.

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