RICHLAND, Wash. – Scientists and engineers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are investigating a possible leak between two walls of a double-shelled nuclear radioactive waste tank there.
In September, a robotic rover will explore the tank-in-question to see where this radioactive material might be coming from, and if the vessel is stable.
This tank called AY-102. Date of birth: 1970. And it holds 784,000 gallons of hazardous radioactive sludge and liquid. That’s more than an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
This tank has two hulls or shells. Locals call them double-shelled tanks. In between those two walls is where the federal government found some dry, radioactive material.
Routine periodic visual monitoring (via camera) of the AY-102 annulus found material that was never before seen. Photo courtesy of Dept. of Energy
“At this point there is no risk to the environment, to the workers or to the public,” says Carrie Meyer from the Department of Energy.
Now, the questions are: Where did it come from and what to do about it?
Meyer says that soon a rover will go in between the walls of the tank to collect samples and give scientists and engineers a better idea of what’s happening down there.
Some are concerned with the longer-term implications. Here’s why: There are a total of 177 waste tanks, some of them are single shelled and some have double-shells. The government has been moving waste out of the known worst of those single-shelled tanks for awhile and into the double-shelled tanks.
Tom Carpenter heads the Seattle-based watchdog Hanford Challenge. He says what if this possible leak shows that the double-shell tanks are more venerable than we thought?
“Then we’re going to have to look for something else to do," he says. "Because frankly we’re out of room in the double-shelled tanks. There is not a whole lot of room left to move waste around.”
Another question: If this tank is proven to be leaking — can the tanks last the nearly five decades it’s going to take to stabilize this radioactive waste in glass?
Refractory installation of tank AY-102 at Hanford circa 1970. Photo courtesy Dept. of Energy
On the Web:
Hanford's storage tank overview:
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio
Images from Hanford tank 241-AY-102