In August of 2012, officials confirmed publicly that a massive underground double-shell tank which stored nuclear waste at the Hanford site was leaking. Now, less than a year after the initial announcements it has been learned that the amount leaking from the tank has doubled in a short amount of time and no plans have been made for how to deal with the problem.
The leaking AY-102 tank at Hanford holds some 860,000 gallons of the most toxic radioactive waste on the planet that is spilling out of the primary tank into the “annulus” – a hollow area between the tanks inner and outer walls. Video and photographic evidence released two months ago shows the accumulation of bright green liquid which indicates the freshness of the material.
The first evidence of the leak was found on October 10th, of 2011, after an alarm sounded which notified workers of a potential leak in the tank, and again when technicians noted a dose-rate increase in the supposedly radiation free annulus area and used a plummet to discover materials in the annulus which were highly radioactive and described as “nuclear waste”. However, it was not confirmed visually for 10 months after discovery, in August of 2012, when cameras were inserted into the annulus during a planned annual inspection and confirmed the presence of the additional materials.
The private company which manages the tank farms, Washington River Protection solutions, ignored the confirmation of the leak and continued to downplay the severity of the problem even after the visual confirmation. A written statement from WRPS argued that “as for the October 2011 events, experience gained over decades of tank farm operations led us to believe that a small amount of rainwater, not waste, was collecting in the AY-102 annulus…This was based on recent heavy rainfall, the discovery of water intrusion pathways, known low levels of radioactive cross-contamination between the primary tank and the annulus, and readings from the leak detection system.”
The technician who discovered the leak however thought differently, “I knew it wasn’t rainwater because of the color of the liquid on the plummet and the dose rates were no indication this was rainwater,” said Mike Geffre, a WRPS employee who was responsible for monitoring the AY-102 tank. “There was no doubt in my mind that we had a leak, that something was wrong down there.”
“This is evidence that the company was bending over backward to not find the bad news,” Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, a watchdog group based in Seattle told King5 news. “This is the mindset at the Hanford site — of denial.”
DOE officials also are accused of misleading the state officials and public at large during the process, one incident specifically referred to was a public meeting in September of 2012 at which DOE representatives reportedly did not acknowledge the presence of a leak and told officials not to jump to conclusions as the materials could be from rainwater. Neither the DOE nor WRPS officially announced that the underground tank was leaking until October 22nd of 2012, more than a year after the initial evidence was found.
In October of 2012, a Leak Assessment Team estimated that between 190 and 520 gallons of waste had already leaked into the annulus of AY-102. There was reportedly a 25% increase in waste in the annulus when investigated again on December 27th of 2012. On April 3rd, 2013, in a letter to the State of Washington Department of Ecology, Michelle Hendrickson, the Tank System Operations and Closure Engineer reported, “The edges of the waste material are very wet and are changing color. The waste material that was white (indicated dry waste) is now yellow or light green.”
Recent reports to King5 news in Washington have said that the amount of waste leaking into the annulus has grown substantially in recent months, expanding into areas which were beyond the inspections ability to visually monitor and indicates the presence of a far greater amount of newer wet material.
In response to the issues, Governor Jay Inslee has called for a full investigation of the problem and the Department of Energy ordered a review of waste tank farm operations. The Department of Energy has promised to deliver a plan by June 14th, but Washington State officials have already begun assessing what actions to take if the DOE fails to deliver an acceptable plan.