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DOE: Hanford Tunnel Should be Grouted ASAP

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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The U.S. Department of Energy is calling for work filling a hazardous-waste storage tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Site with grout to start within weeks so that the job will be finished before winter.

The Tri-City Herald reported Monday (July 16) that the DOE has called on the Washington state Department of Ecology to expedite its public-comment period on the process so that work can begin in August. The tunnel in question is part of the structure that partially collapsed in 2017, spurring a lockdown at the massive nuclear cleanup site.

Department of Energy

Tunnel 1 was filled with engineered grout last year; Tunnel 2 has yet to be reinforced, and the DOE would like the job to be done this year.

The collapse, in May 2017, occurred in Tunnel 1 near where it meets the longer and more recently constructed Tunnel 2, adjacent to the site’s Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, known as PUREX. The tunnels, built in 1956 and 1964 respectively, hold contaminated railcars, filled with materials including mercury, cadmium, silver, barium and lead.

Tunnel 1 was filled with engineered grout last year; the walls of the tunnel are composed mainly of Douglas fir timbers, and deterioration of the timbers was named as the likely cause of the collapse.

Tunnel 2, made of steel, was deemed to be structurally insufficient as well, and the DOE, which owns the site, called for it to be filled in with grout as well. The DOE held a public-comment period, but Washington Ecology’s comment period is currently set to take place over 45 days in August and September. Ecology regulates the site at the state level.

The DOE says that period would delay the work to the point where it could not be finished before winter; an Ecology representative told the Herald the agency is considering the request but is planning a review process nonetheless.

About the Site

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.

A number of the tanks storing radioactive waste on the site are leaking, an issue that officials say does not currently pose a threat to human health. Over the years, at least 67 single-shell tanks have leaked a total of at least 1 million gallons of waste, according to the Washington Department of Ecology. Recently disclosed information indicates that more of the site’s dual-shell tanks may be compromised due to corrosion.


Tagged categories: Grout; Nuclear Power Plants; Tunnel; U.S. Department of Energy

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