53 million gallons of high-level radioactive and chemical waste
are stored in 177 underground tanks the size of three-story buildings,
buried in Hanfords central area, about 12 miles from the river.
Over the years 70 of the tanks have leaked about one million gallons
of waste into the soil. At least some of the leaked tank waste has
reached the groundwater, which eventually flows into the river.
Estimated time for the tank waste to reach the river is anywhere
from 7 to 20 years to a couple generations. How badly it damages
the river depends on how much gets there and when.
does not have a plan for intercepting the tank waste before the
waste reaches the river. To prevent more leaks, DOE has been pumping
liquid waste out of the leaking single shell tanks into the newer,
not yet leaking, double shell tanks. The pumping is going well and
is on schedule.
plan is to "vitrify" the waste by combining it with molten
glass to produce glass logs which will be stored in a dry underground
vault in Hanfords central area. The vitrification plant is
now being built.
- All single
shell tanks to be pumped by Sept. 30, 2004
plant operating by 2007
- In full production
- Ten percent
of the tank waste vitrified by 2018
- All 42 million
gallons of low-activity tank wastes and 11 million gallons of
high-level wastes vitrified by 2028
about the project include:
- DOE has never
defined the endpoint of tank waste cleanup. Will the tanks be
removed, the soil and water under them cleaned up?
- DOE would
like to reclassify some of the high-level tank waste as low-level
waste so it can use a lower level of treatment. A federal judge
has ruled that this is illegal, and Congress declined to change
- DOE is researching
alternative technologies for immobilizing some of the low-activity
tank waste, hoping to save time and money. A decision will be
made in 2005. Any alternative technologies must protect the waste
as well as glass would. Also, this approach would require reclassification
of the tank waste by DOE, which has been ruled illegal.
- DOE does
not want to remove technetium from the waste before it is vitrified.
- DOE is designing
the vit plant while building it, an approach that has led to problems
at other DOE sites.
to the General Accounting Office, the plant to separate tank wastes
before vitrification will be built before fully testing the needed
- DOE's Office
of River Protection may not have enough staff to oversee the contractor
which is building the vit plant.
- Some of DOE's
plans don't agree with the TPA.
- Plans are
changing so rapidly that it is hard for the public to keep up.
deadline changes raise the question of whether DOE can stick to
two K Basins, only a quarter mile from the Columbia River, are huge
indoor pools holding 2,300 tons of corroded, highly radioactive
spent nuclear fuel rods under water. They have leaked in the past.
An earthquake might crack them open, spilling radioactive water
into the Columbia. Fuel exposed to the air could burn, scattering
radioactive particles into the air. Because of the danger, the K
Basins are considered one of Hanfords most urgent problems.
fuel is currently being removed from the Basins, dried out and put
into canisters to be stored in an underground vault in Hanfords
central area. So far about three-fourths of the fuel has been moved.
- Finish moving
all fuel rods from both basins by July 31, 2004. DOE is ahead
of schedule, and expects to finish by May 31.
- Move radioactive
sludge from both basins by Aug. 31, 2004. DOE was supposed to
start sludge removal by Dec. 31, 2002, but has not started. They
have asked for an extension.
sludge removal include whether:
- Enough resources
have been committed.
- The contractor,
Fluor Hanford, is capable of doing the work or needs to be replaced.
are three kinds of radioactive solid waste buried at Hanford:
mixed waste produced by routine operations, environmental and
has an estimated 75,000 barrels of such waste, most of it buried
in trenches. There is no cleanup plan in place. DOE has been working
on a Solid Waste EIS (environmental impact statement) which will
govern all Hanford solid radioactive waste which is not high level
tank waste or spent reactor fuel.
main issue at present is transuranic waste barrels filled
with junk contaminated with highly radioactive particles with long
half lives, meaning it takes thousands to millions of years for
their radioactivity to decay to almost nothing. (TRU waste contains
elements like plutonium which have atomic weights above that of
wants to send nearly 70,000 truckloads of transuranic and other
solid wastes from sites in other states to Hanford. TRU wastes would
be processed and stored at Hanford until the underground Waste Isolation
Pilot Plant in New Mexico can take them.
is attempting to reclassify some of the tank waste as TRU so that
it can be shipped to WIPP.
state tried to negotiate a deal allowing import of more waste in
exchange for a legally enforceable TPA schedule to clean up the
transuranic waste already at Hanford and send it to WIPP. When DOE
wouldn't agree to such a schedule, Washington and four environmental
groups filed a lawsuit to stop DOE from importing any more waste.
A judge issued an injunction against waste shipments.
also used its power under the TPA to unilaterally set a new TPA
deadline have treatment and storage facilities in place for
transuranic waste by June 2012.
still has not released a final Solid Waste EIS but continues to
move ahead with plans to import and bury waste at Hanford.
as of January 2004, it appears that the Washington Dept. of Ecology
is leaning towards allowing new waste at Hanford. Ecology has tentatively
approved the creation of a new landfill at Hanford that would accommodate
900,000 cubic meters of waste, essentially doubling the amount of
waste currently stored at Hanford.
activists have collected enough petition signatures to put an initiative
on the ballot next November which would:
- Stop DOE
from bringing nuclear waste from other states to Hanford.
- Outlaw the
disposal of solid wastes into unlined trenches at Hanford.
- Burying more
waste at Hanford increases the risk of adding to contamination
of groundwater and the Columbia River.
- The waste
presently at Hanford should be cleaned up before we even think
about bringing any more waste to Hanford.
- Many of the
wastes slated to be brought to Hanford need treatment facilities
that do not yet exist on site.
- The imported
waste might stay at Hanford. We have no guarantee, so far, that
it would ever be moved.
- The trucks
would pass through populated areas. There is a risk of an accident
scattering their contents.
could attack the shipments, turning them into "dirty bombs."
- One TPA deadline
in 2012 may not be enough to keep the solid waste cleanup on track.
The more legal deadlines, the more control Washington state and
the public have.
- DOE appears
willing to write off groundwater contamination as irreversible
so it can use the groundwater to absorb pollution.
- Instead of
basing the Solid Waste EIS on the meaningless concept of "acceptable
risk," the EIS should specify how solid waste would be processed
and what form it should be put in to keep it out of the environment.
The EIS does not do this.
- We hope the
Washington Dept. of Ecology doesn't cave in on bringing new waste
to Hanford. We support the initiative filed by Washington activists.
What can you
cleanup of Hanford is complex, enormously expensive and controversial.
There is always someone in power who would like to simply build
a fence around Hanford and walk away. Every new administration tries
to find ways to cut corners and do it faster, cheaper.
is being made, but it will only continue with constant public pressure.
We are the watchdogs.
can help by being part of the watchful public. Use this website
and our email list to keep up on Hanford
issues. Attend public meetings to let DOE know you're watching.
And when you hear anything you don't like, use the list of links
in the right column on our home page to
let your legislators know how you feel about it.