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State Won't Expedite Hanford Site Grouting

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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Weeks after the U.S. Department of Energy petitioned the state of Washington to hurry the approval process for the stabilization of a second tunnel full of radioactive waste at the Hanford Site, the state has responded, denying the request in favor of a full public comment period.

Tunnels
Images: Department of Energy

The collapse, in May 2017, occurred in Tunnel 1 near where it meets the longer and more recently constructed Tunnel 2, adjacent to PUREX.

According to the Tri-City Herald, the Washington state Department of Ecology, which regulates the massive ongoing cleanup process at the decades-old nuclear site, told the DOE it could not skip weeks of public comment on the grouting of Tunnel 2 in order to speed the process. The DOE, which owns the site and is overseeing work by contractors, had hoped to skip the state’s comment period because of fears the work could be pushed to 2019 if it can’t be finished before winter.

Last Year's Collapse

The stabilization project stems from last year’s incident in which one of the two tunnels near the site’s Plutonium Uranium Extraction (PUREX) facility collapsed, sparking a lockdown of part of the site.

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

Hanford tunnel construction

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. The DOE held a public-comment period, but Washington Ecology’s comment period is set to take place over 45 days in August and September.

Stability vs. Transparency

While the DOE, according to the Herald, has expressed concerns that a wet winter could threaten the stability of Tunnel 2 if it’s not stabilized in fall, but the state wants the chance to hear feedback from citizens, some of whom are concerned that the grouting project might be seen as a permanent measure to solve the tunnel issue.

The deteriorating tunnels are just one of the ongoing problems at the 586-square-mile Hanford Site.

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; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; U.S. Department of Energy

Comment from Bryant Chandler, (8/15/2018, 1:37 PM)

I like the phrasing for the Tunnel 1 & 2 photos where they say the "more recently constructed Tunnel 2" albeit 54 years ago. Nothing is said about a CP system for the tunnel 2 steel. I do not recall anything ever mentioned about a CP system for all the hundreds of buried steel tanks either.


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