Friday, February 22, 2013

Six more radioactive waste leaks announced at Hanford Nuclear Plant

DSCF9728Carol Forsloff ----The Governor of the State of Washington, Jay Inslee, has announced that U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told him today that radioactive waste is seeping out of six tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Plant.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 5 miles from the Columbia River," Inslee maintained in an official statement, "But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians." The Governor said Chu advised him that evaluators had missed the other five leaks, when reporting the one leaking last week.

"This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford," he said.

The newest discovery verifies the concern scientists have mentioned for a number of years about the risks at Hanford. And although Inslee says there is no immediate risk to the people in the surrounding area, people who are referred to as "downwinders" and some of the Native Americans of the area have been concerned about the potential risks for many years, pointing to a variety of health problems which they maintain are related to exposure to radioactive material "downwind," in nearby areas.

Hanford's research and development of nuclear energy came about in response to the Cold War concerns, and even though most of the plant reactors have been shut down, the problem now has to do with the encasement of the radioactive waste. Scientists have underlined the poor quality of design and development of the new structures that are to protect the environment from radioactive waste.

Hanford Challenge, an activist group in the Seattle area, reported in January that Gary Brunson,  who had been the U.S. Department of Energy’s engineering division director for the Waste Treatment Plant at Hanford, resigned his post because of his frustrations referencing the work being done at Hanford.

Construction at Hanford's Waste Treatment plant, 2009.

Construction at Hanford’s Waste Treatment plant, 2009.

Brunson reportedly sent a memo to Chu on December 19, 2012. The memo states the plant may have fatal design flaws and that there is  a “compelling body of objective evidence” of quality problems at the plan.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees the Hanford cleanup,  toured the Hanford site this week and said about the cleanup effort, “This is not acceptable for a plant that is, in theory, more than half complete.” Consequently Wyden says he will hold hearings on Hanford to make the issue a bigger priority in the U.S. Senate.

“This should represent an unacceptable risk to the Pacific Northwest for everyone,” Wyden said. “These are problems that have to be solved.” Scientists have agreed with this conclusion. There is also the issue that the treatment plan at Hanford may not be done by the 2019 deadline. The issue has to do with the deterioration of the structures now containing the radioactive waste.

Scientists are also concerned because of the potential for seismic activity in that region surrounding Hanford, with worries that extend to California to the South and Canada to the North.

Robert Alvarez, a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, said the 27-year-old Hanford reactor “fits the profile of what we need to be concerned about.” He said this is because the boiling water reactor is similar to Japan, also in an area where there was earthquake potential. The specific fault in question extends from Whidbey Island in Puget Sound to Pasco, Washington, one of the Tri-Cities that include Richland and Kennewick.