Tag Archives: Hanford

Alarm as Trump Energy Dept Redefines ‘High-Level’ Nuclear Waste to ‘Low-Level’ in Order to Save Disposal Costs

“If you’ve got a problem with radioactive waste, you could clean it up, a costly and onerous process, or you could just change the definition of it. Guess which one the Trump administration has decided to do?”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-6-2019

The Savannah River Site in South Carolina is one of three Defense Reprocessing Waste Inventories where the Department of Energy will be reclassifying nuclear waste as safer than it has for decades, allowing the government to dispose of the waste more easily and potentially posing a risk for the surrounding environment. (Photo: Savannah River Site/Flickr/cc)

In a move that will roll back safety standards that have been observed for decades, the Trump administration reportedly has plans to reclassify nuclear waste previously listed as “high-level” radioactive to a lower level, in the interest of saving money and time when disposing of the material.

The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to observe a new interpretation of which nuclear waste qualifies as “high-level waste,” which must be disposed of deep underground to avoid contaminating the surrounding environment. Under the new standards, radioactive materials at three nuclear sites will be classified as low-risk, enabling officials to dispose of the waste in shallow pits. Continue reading

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New Leak at Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is ‘Catastrophic,’ Worker Warns

‘This is probably the biggest event ever to happen in tank farm history.’

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-19-2016

DOE said Monday said the rupture was an "anticipated" result of ongoing efforts to fully decommission the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation. (Photo: Tobin/flickr/cc)

DOE said Monday said the rupture was an “anticipated” result of ongoing efforts to fully decommission the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation. (Photo: Tobin/flickr/cc)

A leak at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state has prompted warnings of “catastrophic” consequences, as workers attempt to clean up more than eight inches of toxic waste from one of 28 underground tanks holding radioactive materials leftover from plutonium production.

Alarms on the site began sounding on Sunday, leading workers to discover 8.4 inches of toxic waste in between the inner and outer walls of tank AY-102, which has been slowly leaking since 2011 but has never accumulated that amount of waste before. Continue reading

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Nuclear Waste Site Whistleblower ‘Vindicated’ With $4.1 Million Settlement

Walter Tamosaitis a ‘hero’ who helped stave off disaster, says Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge

Written by Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-14-15.

Sunrise at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington.  (Photo: Scott Butner/flickr/cc)

Sunrise at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington. (Photo: Scott Butner/flickr/cc)

Ending years of legal wrangling, a whistleblower who raised safety concerns regarding operations at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington has won a $4.1 million settlement, his lawyer announced Wednesday.

Walter Tamosaitis, an engineer, worked over four decades for Hanford subcontractor URS (now AECOM), a subcontractor to Bechtel. Tamosaitis, the LA Times explains,

had been leading a team of 100 scientists and engineers in designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of highly toxic nuclear sludge as thick as peanut butter. The sludge, which could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a nearby person within minutes, is stored in leaking underground tanks near the Columbia River in Washington state.

The radioactive waste at the site “is legacy of the Cold War, when the site housed nuclear reactors churning out radioactive plutonium for thousands of American atomic bombs,” the Center for Public Integrity explains. Now, the site is “the largest environmental cleanup project in the world.”

Tamosaitis’ problems erupted in 2010, when, as the Tri-City Herald reports, he

raised a concern that technical issues, including some related to keeping waste well-mixed within the plant, had not been resolved as Bechtel National was working to meet a deadline, according to court documents. At risk was an incentive payment of $6 million to be split between Bechtel and URS, with much of it dependent on resolving the mixing issue by the end of July 2010.

[…]

A few days after Tamosaitis discussed his concerns, he was removed from the project and escorted from vitrification plant offices, according to court documents.

Fifteen months later, he was fired.

“I was fired because I raised nuclear safety issues about the Hanford site,” Tamosaitis has said.

“We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated,” stated Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Tamosaitis. “This settlement sends a message to whistleblowers everywhere that integrity and truth are worth fighting for, and that you can win if you don’t give up.”

Tom Carpenter, Director of Hanford Challenge, which advocates for safe cleanup of the site, said following the settlement that Tamosaitis is “a hero who staked his career to raise nuclear safety issues that could have resulted in a catastrophe down the road.”

“His concerns have led to the Department of Energy to abandon a dangerously defective design, and to call attention to the abysmal treatment of employees who bring forward safety issues,” Carpenter added. “The public owes Walt a debt of gratitude for his sacrifices.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Making Fukushima Small

The N Reactor at the Hanford site, along the Columbia River. The twin KE and KW reactors can be seen in the immediate background, with the B Reactor in the distance. Photo by United States Department of Energy (Image N1D0069267.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The N Reactor at the Hanford site, along the Columbia River. The twin KE and KW reactors can be seen in the immediate background, with the B Reactor in the distance. Photo by United States Department of Energy (Image N1D0069267.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When the word “Fukushima” is spoken, the reaction is visible. People were horrified as the huge facility succumbed to Mother Nature through earthquake and tsunami aftermaths, destroying Japan’s pride of their nuclear energy program. Despite all the planning and innovation, we were shown how insignificant mankind’s attempts to become supreme over nature truly are.

So it should come as no surprise that the most contaminated site in the United States and possibly on the planet continues to threaten the safety and security of our nation, while Washington DC ignores the problem and federal agencies work overtime of cover-up rather than clean-up.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is home to our largest nuclear waste facility. It was the facility that produced the plutonium used at the Los Alamos site to manufacture the atomic weapons tested at Trinity and later dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan.

Image by  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Public Domain)

Image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Public Domain)

By 1963, the Hanford Site was home to nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River, five reprocessing plants on the central plateau, and more than 900 support buildings and radiological laboratories around the site. Extensive modifications and upgrades were made to the original three World War II reactors, and a total of 177 underground waste tanks were built. Hanford was at its peak production from 1956 to 1965. The site was fully decommissioned, meaning it no longer produced nuclear energy, in 1987.

The Hanford site currently stores 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste, 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater beneath the site and occasional discoveries of undocumented contaminations that slow the pace and raise the cost of cleanup.

Warning sign at entry to Hanford Site, Washington. Photo by Tobin Fricke via Wikimedia Commons

Warning sign at entry to Hanford Site, Washington. Photo by Tobin Fricke via Wikimedia Commons

When it was constructed, there were single walled storage tanks that were designed to store the nuclear waste for 20 years, with the expectation that science would develop a means to deal with the waste. That didn’t happen.

This is the surface of waste found in double-shell tank 101-SY at the Hanford Site in eastern Washington State. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and others are working to remediate this waste. The appearance and chemical mixture in each Hanford Site waste tank depends on how the waste was generated and later waste management practices such as liquid evaporation, radionuclide removal, and waste mixing between tanks. The steel pipe was bent during past waste movement during a gas release ("burp"). April 1989 Courtesy: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

This is the surface of waste found in double-shell tank 101-SY at the Hanford Site. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and others are working to remediate this waste. The appearance and chemical mixture in each Hanford Site waste tank depends on how the waste was generated and later waste management practices such as liquid evaporation, radionuclide removal, and waste mixing between tanks. The steel pipe was bent during past waste movement during a gas release (“burp”). April 1989 Courtesy: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

In 1986, over 19,000 pages were released by the Department of Energy. A mass tort lawsuit brought by two thousand Hanford downwinders against the federal government has been in the court system for many years. The first six plaintiffs went to trial in 2005, in a bellwether trial to test the legal issues applying to the remaining plaintiffs in the suit. The case remains unresolved and centers on the radiation that was found in the air from the facility.

A legal challenge for downstreamers has not been made public, so we do not have knowledge of any pending suits filed on behalf of these people.

Why is this news today? The Department of Energy, together with other agencies, has demonstrated a track record for ignoring, denying and delaying the clean-up of Hanford. Radiation plumes have been identified under the facility which show movement toward the Columbia River, with hundreds of thousands of “downstreamers” in the danger path. Like the coal ash spills in North Carolina, “downstreamers” are people affected as a pollutant or contaminant to a water system moves through that area, affecting more down the stream as it proceeds.

Hanford High after abandonment. Photo by Department of Defense (Public Domain)

Hanford High after abandonment. Photo by Department of Defense (Public Domain)

To date, two people who attempted to do the right thing by making citizens aware of the government’s failure to address this particular site have been fired. They apparently do not meet the criteria for whistleblowers laws, as they are reporting on federal activities.

Also unresolved is how exactly this site will be dealt with. Just two days prior to the most recent discovery of leaks in the double walled tanks that are supposed to be “safer” than their much older counterparts on March 6, 2014, the Obama Administration proposed cutting millions from the cleanup budget for the Hanford site. Additionally, most corporate news agencies do not have interest in running this “old” story when they would rather talk about governors and bridge scandals and the re-writing of children’s stories to excuse the political ineptness of prominent public figures.

For further reading:
The mess gets worse at Hanford’s nuclear site
Leak in massive Hanford nuclear waste tank getting worse
Nuclear waste leaking at Hanford site in Washington, again
Possible New Leak at Hanford Nuclear Waste Site
Whistle-Blower Who Raised Safety Concerns At Hanford Nuclear Reservation Fired
Tamosaitis, Hanford Site Whistleblower: ‘I Was Fired Because I Raised Nuclear Safety Issues’

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