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Hanford Nuclear Tank Shut Down Over Corrosion

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

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One of the Hanford Nuclear Site’s 28 double-shell radioactive waste tanks is being decommissioned after corrosion caused several leaks into its secondary containment shell.

Hanford SIte
Tobin Fricke, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first double-shell radioactive waste tank built at the Hanford Nuclear Site will be taken out of service due to extensive corrosion and leakage.

Tank AY-102, the first double-shell tank to have been built at the massive nuclear site in Washington state, will be taken out of service, the Tri-City Herald reports, in the wake of an inspection of the inner shell. Leaks of radioactive waste from the tank’s inner shell into its secondary containment were first reported in 2012.

Construction Problems

The U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the site, issued reports in 2012 and 2013 indicating that AY-102, as the first tank of its kind on the site, was plagued with issues that likely contributed to the leaks. The DOE cited problems with the tank, which was put into service in 1971, including rainwater intrusion and structural irregularities that were plugged with Styrofoam.

In the years since the leaks were first discovered, the DOE examined whether the tank could be repaired, but the newly reported communication from the DOE to Washington state’s Department of Ecology—which regulates the 586-square-mile site—indicates that it will simply be shuttered, because the leaks are too widespread.

Hanford tank farm
U.S. Department of Energy

The Hanford Site's tank farm includes 167 tanks, 28 of which are double-shell, with reinforced concrete secondary containment around carbon steel inner tanks.

An inspection performed after most of the carbon steel inner tank was emptied indicated that at least seven corroded areas were leaking. Water, not treated with any anticorrosive agents, reportedly sat in the tank before any waste was added initially, likely contributing to the corrosion issues. While reports in the early 2000s indicated that the waste mix in the tank was not corrosive, the waste that was transferred into it early on may not have been treated to prevent corrosion.

Toxic Sludge

The tank holds more than 850,000 gallons of waste, a toxic sludge of metals including uranium 235, plutonium 238 and strontium 90. AY-102 and the 27 other double-shell tanks, with reinforced concrete secondary containment, were built to store waste transferred from the site’s 139 single-shell tanks. Overall, at least 67 tanks on the site have leaked more than 1 million gallons of waste over the years, according to the Department of Ecology.

The Department of Ecology has pushed the DOE to take a more proactive approach to the leaks since they were first reported more than five years ago, and attempted in 2016 to force the DOE to construct more double-shell tanks. A federal judge declined to require more double-shell tanks at the site.

Much of the waste from the tanks is set to be converted to glass through the process of vitrification, at which point it will be safer and more stable.

Site History

Constructed in 1943 and 1944, the Hanford site, on the Columbia River in eastern Washington, was the world’s first plutonium production site. It was where the first nuclear bomb ever tested was built. The last reactor on the site closed in 1987, according to the DOE, and in 1989, the government began a large-scale cleanup effort.

The site has been subject to considerable controversy in recent years, related to both environmental concerns and alleged improprieties committed by contractors.

Last May, a tunnel storing contaminated railcars on the site collapsed, provoking safety concerns, though the DOE says the tunnel was stabilized in November with no injuries. A second, conjoined tunnel is now being stabilized.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Corrosion protection; NA; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Tanks and vessels

Comment from Gregory Stoner, (1/3/2018, 10:07 PM)

What are we the General Public supposed to believe concerning sites like this. They were necessary but now need to be addressed in as safe a manner as possible. This will be an ongoing task for the foreseeable future at least until technology advances enough for us to protect ourselves from theses hazards.

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