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This was actually top news in the early 1990s and there were worries about how quickly the contamination would reach the Columbia River and how to block it. It was such top news that even those of us with heads in the sand recall it. Since the US government hires contractors that apparently don’t know what they are doing, why is it importing foreign HEU and plutonium nuclear waste? The current Hanford contractor for the leaky tanks is a consortium comprised of AECOM (due to recent purchase of URS), EnergySolutions (owned by Energy Capital Partners – mostly former Goldman Sachs investment bankers led by Doug Kimmelman), and French state owned AREVA, which would be bankrupt if it weren’t French State owned. If AREVA knows so much then why did the US take French HEU (highly enriched uranium) or HEU waste off the hands of the French? Why didn’t the French take Swiss HEU waste or Swiss plutonium? Why, instead, was it dumped on America?

From Washington State:
Department of Ecology News Release – April 18, 2016
Ecology statement on Hanford tank alarm 
No indication of leak to environment or risk to public at this time
RICHLAND – An alarm was activated on Sunday, April 17, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation while crews working for the U.S. Department of Energy were pumping waste out of the double-shell tank AY-102. There is no indication of waste leaking into the environment or risk to the public at this time. The Department of Energy notified the Washington Department of Ecology that the leak detector alarm went off.

The alarm indicates an increase in waste seeping from the primary tank into the space between the primary and secondary tank, known as the annulus.

Crews have been actively removing waste from AY-102 since March because mixed radioactive and chemical waste had previously leaked into the secondary containment area. Approximately 20,000 gallons of waste remains from the original 800,000 gallons in the tank.

According to the Department of Energy, the removal work is currently on hold while engineers evaluate the situation and prepare a plan to recover the material that leaked between the two walls of the tank.
This morning, an Ecology Nuclear Waste Program engineer assessed the situation with the Department of Energy waste retrieval engineers to assure that contingency response plans are being followed.
Additional leaking into the annulus was a known possibility during pumping and is addressed in the Department of Energy’s contingency plan that was submitted to Ecology as part of a Settlement Agreement. That plan delineates actions for Energy to take. 

Ecology continues to monitor the situation as spelled out in the settlement agreement that directs waste retrieval.

There are 28 double-shell tanks at the Hanford site.http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2016/050.html

More from Washington State Dept. of Ecology:
Ecology home > Nuclear Waste > Tank Storage, Operations & Closure Project > Tank leaks FAQ Frequently Asked Questions: Leaking underground tanks at Hanford
Ecology knows the public and the news media want and deserve answers about leaking tanks at Hanford, so we have created this page to answer some of the most common questions. Please submit other questions you would like to see answered by emailing hanford@ecy.wa.gov or 
calling 509-372-7950.
Hanford Tanks image 1
1) How many tanks are leaking and when did they start?

Between October 2012 and February 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) reported that 7 of the 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford are leaking.

The Washington State Department of Ecology only knows when USDOE reported these leaks, not when the leaks actually started. (Note that 67 tanks leaked at least one million gallons in the past. See Question 5:Wasn’t all the liquid pumped out of the SSTs years ago? If so, why are these tanks leaking again? for more information.)

Of the 6 single-shell tanks that were thought to be actively leaking, USDOE now (November 6, 2013) says an analysis of the data indicates that only one of those tanks (T-111) is leaking. USDOE’s reports indicate that evaporation is the likely cause of the decreasing waste levels in the other 5 tanks. 
Ecology reviewed drafts of these reports, and we agree with the findings for 4 of the 6 tanks that evaporation is the likely explanation for declining waste levels. On the other tanks, we believe further analysis is necessary to determine why waste levels are falling.
Tanks in Question
* Double-shell tank (DST) AY-102, first reported 10/18/12. Waste is leaking into the space between the waste tank, or the inner shell of the double-shell tank, and the secondary containment shell. This space, called the annulus, was designed to contain leaks.
* Single-shell tanks (SSTs) reported by then-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (replaced by Ernest Moniz) to Washington Governor Jay Inslee:
* B-203, reported 2/22/13
* B-204, reported 2/22/13
* T-111, reported 2/15/13
* T-203, reported 2/22/13
* T-204, reported 2/22/13
* TY-105, reported 2/22/13

2) What is the threat to public health?
No immediate or near-term health risks are associated with Hanford’s tank leaks.
* The tanks are underground, five to eight miles from the Columbia River, in an isolated area far from any homes or farms. 
* There is no route for the leaked waste to travel from Hanford to agricultural areas, so there is no risk of food crop contamination.
* Hanford’s groundwater is about 200 to 300 feet below the tanks, so the new leaks will take decades to reach it.
* The groundwater pump-and-treat facilities in the center of Hanford are keeping the majority of pre-existing groundwater contamination from moving toward the Columbia River.  
However, the fact that there is no immediate threat to health does not minimize the state’s concerns, because any leaks add to future groundwater problems. These leaks underscore the importance of retrieving and treating tank waste as quickly as possible to mitigate the chance of further releases to the environment.
Hanford Leaking Tanks image 2
3) What are the options for dealing with leaking tanks?
The single-shell tanks (SSTs) are all unfit for use and decades past their design life. It would be impossible to repair and upgrade the SSTs to meet current regulatory standards. Some options for addressing leaks include:
* Increasing monitoring and sampling. 

* Developing new retrieval technologies.

* Constructing surface barriers over SST farms. In 2008, an interim barrier was constructed over part of T Tank Farm, where three of the leaking SSTs are located, to protect against precipitation entering tanks and to keep that precipitation from pushing contaminants closer to the groundwater. Construction of additional barriers is a possible solution to slow the spread of leaked tank waste. 

* Building new tanks. We had assumed that the double-shell tanks (DSTs) were still sound and could accept waste from SSTs. However, the leak from the inner shell of AY-102 has led us to re-evaluate that assumption. To move the waste out of that DST and the SSTs, USDOE may have to build new DSTs. Washington, Oregon, and the Hanford Advisory Board have urged USDOE to start the process to build new DSTs at Hanford. However, obtaining funding and designing and constructing new tanks would likely take at least 10 years.

* Removing liquid waste from DST AY-102 with a portable evaporator.

* Disposing some of the waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Because the Waste Treatment Plant designed to treat Hanford’s tank waste will not start up for at least six more years, USDOE is exploring other options to treat and dispose of this waste. It may be possible to classify the waste in five of the six leaking SSTs as transuranic waste (meaning literally “after uranium,” this waste contains alpha-particle-emitting radioactive isotopes with atomic numbers higher than 92, uranium’s atomic number). If this was done, then the waste would be retrieved from the tanks, dried, packaged, and shipped to WIPP for disposal. But this process would, optimistically, take at least two to five years. 

4) How are the tanks monitored?
Monitoring of the tank waste is difficult in part due to the high radiation and harsh chemical environment inside most tanks.  Access to the insides of the tanks is limited.  
All of the tanks have monitoring instruments inside them. This is a requirement of the Tri-Party Agreement. However, analyzing the monitoring data is a complex process, and it can be difficult to detect very small changes in waste levels in tanks that do not have much liquid or solid waste.  
The existing in-tank monitoring equipment is imperfect, but no better systems have been identified. U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) can currently only monitor the surface level at one location in each tank. Most tanks have annual monitoring requirements. If they have an Enraf® gauge, they are monitored continuously. One data point is gathered each day.
For tanks with liquid observation wells, a neutron probe is used quarterly to gather data. It was a look at long term trends of that data — something USDOE had never done before — that led to the conclusion there must be new leaks.
External tank monitoring can be used to detect releases to the environment but is much more expensive to implement and also has limitations on its usefulness. It is being done, but Ecology is looking for ways to improve the monitoring process. (See Single-Shell Tank System Leak Detection and Monitoring Functions and Requirements, RPP-9937, Rev. 3, for more information.)

5) Wasn’t all the liquid pumped out of the SSTs years ago? If so, why are these tanks leaking again? Hanford’s single-shell tanks were interim stabilized between 1978 and 2010. Ecology sued the  U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) to finish interim stabilization in 1999 through a Consent Decree. The interim stabilization process removed as much pumpable, or free, liquid as was “practicable.”  Practicable means pumping was continued until the rate was very low — less than 0.05 gallons per minute.  
Hanford Tank sludge leak image 3
However, liquids drain very slowly through the saltcake and sludge, and there was only one pumping location per tank.  Over time, additional liquids can drain to the pumping location, so liquids still in the tanks can only be pumped after they migrate to the pumping location.  

Some tanks met interim stabilization requirements because they didn’t have that much waste in the first place. Six tanks were administratively interim stabilized after pumping equipment failed and was too expensive to replace. 

In addition, precipitation has entered some tanks and increased the liquid volume, a process known as intrusion.

After reviewing monitoring data, USDOE now knows that some of the tanks have continued to show decreases in waste levels. Ecology would like USDOE to use better monitoring equipment and to prove that existing equipment is in good working condition.

6) What has been done to slow tank leaks?
All free liquids were pumped from the single-shell tanks to newer double-shell tanks from the 1970s to the 1990s, leaving solid saltcake and slurry (mixture of liquid and solid waste) in the tanks. However, liquids drain very slowly through the saltcake and sludge, and there is only one pumping location per tank.  Over time, additional liquids drain to the pumping location, so liquids still in the tanks can only be pumped after they move to the pumping location.

7) What has been done to keep water from intruding into the tanks and prevent contaminants from moving toward groundwater?

Most raw water pipelines to the single-shell tank (SST) farms were cut and capped between 2001 and 2002. Leaky water distribution lines next to tank farms were also pressure tested. If these lines were not needed or failed the test, they were either remediated or removed from service to further limit the amount of water moving through the soil, a driving force in contaminant migration.

Water intrusion into SSTs has been reduced, but monitoring data continues to indicate intrusion in some tanks. The sources of intrusion are being investigated and stopped where possible. Engineering controls were installed to prevent rain or snowmelt from forming puddles or ponds over, or in the vicinity of, the tanks. Surface covers were installed over some tank farms, and berms were built on the ground surface to direct water away from the tank farms.

8) How hard is it to get the waste out of tanks?
Hanford Tank Diagram A
Removing waste from Hanford’s tanks is difficult for many reasons:
* Access to the tank waste is very limited.  The tops of the tanks are 7 to 10 feet underground, and openings into the tanks are limited. Double-shell tanks (DSTs) have more access points than single-shell tanks (SSTs). Regardless, all work is done remotely using video cameras and robotic equipment. 

* The waste is usually very radioactive and contains many chemicals, creating an environment that limits the types of equipment that can be used. For instance, electronic equipment can be burned out by radiation.

* Workers must rely on only one or two cameras in each tank to view waste and retrieval equipment. 

* The waste in the tanks is not homogeneous and can have varied properties at different locations in the tank. The solid waste is generally broken up using high pressure spray (existing liquid waste is constantly recirculated so more waste isn’t created). The liquid is also used to transport waste from SSTs to DSTs.

* Retrieval technologies continue to evolve, but retrieval rates are still limited. 

* Waste can only be moved to a tank with the appropriate space and chemistry. 

In addition to the above challenges, pumps and other equipment break, the weather can become too hot for workers to be safe in protective gear or too cold for equipment to work properly. When equipment operates smoothly and weather conditions are safe for workers, tank retrieval work continues around the clock.
Hanford Tank Diagram B
9) If the waste is pumped out of the tanks, where will it go? Don’t you need additional storage space? If so, how much time and money is it going to take to build new tanks?

A shortage of space in Hanford’s double-shell tanks is a concern, especially because one of them is leaking. Ecology is not convinced that current storage is adequate to meet legal and regulatory requirements for tank retrievals and Waste Treatment Plant operations.  

The state and the federal governments must have a thorough and candid discussion about the need for additional storage tanks. The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) estimates that it could take a minimum of 7 to 10 years and cost around $100 million per tank to build new tanks. But we can’t wait that long. We will be working with USDOE to consider options for accelerating that process.

10) Is there any good news about Hanford tanks?
The news that at least 4 single-shell tanks appear not to be actively leaking is encouraging, but it does not mitigate the need to remain vigilant in protecting future public health and our environment from Hanford waste. The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) has a responsibility to prevent waste from leaking into the environment, and to promptly address any tanks that are found to be leaking. We know that many of these single-shell tanks have leaked in the past and that future leaks are highly likely if the federal government does not act to get this waste retrieved and treated in a timely manner.

In addition, active retrieval is ongoing, and a variety of technologies are being used in C Tank Farm, also known as Waste Management Area C (WMAC).  The 2010 Consent Decree between Washington State and USDOE sets September 2014 as the deadline to complete waste retrieval from all 16 C Farm tanks, but USDOE has said that deadline is in jeopardy.

11) Why didn’t Ecology know about the leaks sooner?

All of the tanks have monitoring instruments inside them. This is a requirement of the Tri-Party Agreement. However, the analysis of the monitoring data is a complex process, and it can be difficult to detect very small changes in waste levels because the SSTs do not have much liquid.

In double-shell Tank AY-102, the leak is too small to observe noticeable changes in liquid level.  Ecology will be working with the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) to see if there are better leak detection methods that can track small changes.

It is USDOE’s responsibility to analyze tank monitoring data and then deliver the raw data and their findings to Ecology. Ecology then reviews their findings and independently analyzes the data.  Ecology will be working with USDOE and its contractors to ensure that their data evaluation procedures are updated for more accurate analysis to reflect current conditions.

In this case, because of the serious nature of decreasing and increasing tank levels, we are expediting the process by working jointly with USDOE to review their analyses.

12) Will Ecology take enforcement actions if USDOE does not act soon?
The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) is acting by developing a path forward. Of course, Ecology always has the option to take enforcement actions and uses them when necessary.

For more information about leaking underground storage tanks at Hanford, please contact Ecology at hanford@ecy.wa.gov or 509-372-7950.

(Emphasis our own)