Hanford’s stash of radioactive water

Millions of dollars and labor hours are being spent moving nuclear waste from bad tanks into good tanks. Then millions more will be spent on vitrification. But single-shell or double shell, peanut butter or glass, it will still be nuclear waste. There is no getting rid of it. There is only finding more convenient, less uncomfortable ways to deal. .

At The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, A Steady Drip Of Toxic Trouble by  Feb 24, 2013   Eric Nusbaum tours the largest environmental cleanup operation the United States government has ever undertaken. “……There are 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater under Hanford. Every day that water moves closer to the Columbia River. Not coincidentally, there are also 177 massive storage tanks on the site, each built to hold between 55,000 and more than 100,000 gallons of nuclear waste.

Our first stop was at one of these tanks, which, even in the middle distance, was ominous and metallic and looked sort of like a giant industrial-sized swimming pool. Next to the tank were some scattered pieces of construction equipment and an unglamorous temporary building. We were met at a landing above the tank by a man who said he first came to Hanford as a TV news reporter, but eventually took a job for one of the many contractors at the site. According to the Hanford website, his company is tasked with “retrieving, treating, storing, and ultimately disposing of the approximately 53,000,000 gallons of nuclear and chemical waste stored in these tanks at the Site.” The company is innocuously and indirectly but also somehow reasonably called Washington River Protection Solutions.

Standing before an info-crammed poster, the Washington River Protection Solutions man walked us through the three kinds of radioactive waste that might be found in the tanks: solid, liquid, and a sludge that everybody insisted on always describing as “peanut-butter like.” Then he got into the history of the tanks. They are divided into two classes: “single-shell” and “double-shell,” and grouped into large sections called “tank farms.” The first set of 149 “single-shell” tanks was constructed between 1943 and 1964. Hanford estimated that 67 of those have leaked. Last week’s announcement makes 73. But a little leakage is nothing, really, when you consider the fact that during those years, Hanford actually produced more waste than the tanks could hold anyway. The leftovers were either sent to “holding facilities,” or dumped into massive trenches……

Millions of dollars and labor hours are being spent moving nuclear waste from bad tanks into good tanks. Then millions more will be spent on vitrification. But single-shell or double shell, peanut butter or glass, it will still be nuclear waste. There is no getting rid of it. There is only finding more convenient, less uncomfortable ways to deal. ……  In the early days of Hanford, workers would simply haul what they perceived as low-level waste — stuff like contaminated tools or uniforms — out into the desert and bury it. Recordkeeping was less than rigorous, and pollution was not a concern whatsoever, so long as everything seemed like it was a safe distance from where people were gathering. Now, because nobody bothered to write down where anything was, Hanford crews are engaged in the ongoing and seemingly never-ending task of finding all this stuff, combing all 586 square miles of the site in search of buried toxic treasures…….http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/24/at-the-hanford-nuclear-reservation-a-steady-drip-of-toxic-trouble.html

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