4 April 2013, 09:43

Radioactive catastrophe in US could happen at any moment, warn safety experts

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Caution radiation
Caution radiation

Nuclear safety specialists have warned about a radioactive catastrophe that might happen at any moment, should no safeguard measures be taken to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's underground tanks, located on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, containing 56 million gallons of toxic waste.

The experts from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) described the risks existing due to a buildup of hydrogen gas in a letter addressed to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee. The letter was disclosed on Tuesday.

“All the double-shell tanks contain waste that continuously generates some flammable gas. This gas will eventually reach flammable conditions if adequate ventilation is not provided,” the board wrote in reply to the senator’s inquiry.

This is not the first attempt taken by the board to draw the authorities’ attention to the grave problem at the waste storage site.

If the tanks were to explode, there would be flammable releases that would “have considerable radiological consequences, endanger personnel, contaminate portions of the Tank Farms, and seriously disrupt the waste cleanup mission,” the DFNSB stated in a report sent last September to the Department of Energy.

Moreover, as the board stresses, there is a considerable delay in construction of a waste treatment plant that would make the toxic chemicals stored at the facility too, safe for long-term disposal and prevent the waste from going through the ground.

But the Department of Energy seems to disagree with the board's claims. In a statement issued in response to the latest warning the Department of Energy wrote: “All DSTs are actively ventilated, which means they have blowers and fans to prevent hydrogen gas build-up. These ventilation systems are monitored to ensure they are operating as intended.”

Nuclear and chemical waste stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation double shelled-tanks was left from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production, a mass media report reminds. Some years ago it was discovered that about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste are leaking from six of the tanks each year.

Senator Wyden promised to bring up the Hanford issue next week at the confirmation hearing for Dr. Moniz as the next Secretary of Energy.

Voice of Russia, RT


 

Washington reservoir leaks 1,000 gallons of toxic waste a year

Toxic nuclear waste is reported to be leaking from the Washington-based Hanford Nuclear Reservation facility. Experts estimate the total annual waste released into the soil to be 1,000 gallons per year.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation established in 1943 is mostly decommissioned but still holds two-thirds of the nation’s radioactive waste in its 177 tanks.

The Department of Energy says the tanks were stabilized years ago and pose no danger.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee says, however, that the government has no technology to stop the leaks and lacks the funds, particularly with billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts due to go into effect on March 1.

The Department of Energy estimates that it would take $114.8 billion to clean up the waste “before the end of this century”, Inslee said.

Given the situation, the area around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation could soon be in grave danger – especially if the waste makes its way into drinking water.

Six Washington state nuclear tanks leaking - officials

Six underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington state were recently found to be leaking radioactive waste, but there is no immediate risk to human health, state and federal officials said on Friday.

The seeping waste adds to decades of soil contamination caused by leaking storage tanks at Hanfordin the past and threatens to further taint groundwater below the site but poses no near-term danger of polluting the Columbia River, officials said.

The newly discovered leaks were revealed by Governor Jay Inslee at a news conference a week after the U.S. Energy Department disclosed that radioactive waste was found to be escaping from one tank at Hanford.

Inslee said he was informed on Friday by outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu that a total of six of the aging, single-walled tanks were leaking radioactive waste.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 5 miles from the Columbia River," Inslee said in a statement released by his office. "But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians."

The governor said Chu told him that his department initially missed the other five leaking tanks because staff there did not adequately analyze data.

"This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford," he said.

The Energy Department issued a brief statement acknowledging that six waste tanks were found to be leaking and adding that there was "no immediate public health risk."

Four of the tanks in question, including the two biggest of the group, are known to have leaked waste in the past as well, Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manager for the state Department of Ecology, told Reuters.

"It points to the age of the tanks and how there's going to be an increased probability of this happening in the future," she said. "When waste is in the tanks, it's manageable. Once it's out of the tanks and in the soil, it's much harder to manage it, remove it, and down the road you're adding to contamination in the groundwater that already exists."

Voice of Russia, Reuters, RT

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