Ecology orders feds to pump out Hanford tank by September

Ecology orders feds to pump out Hanford tank by September
FILE - In this March 6, 2013 file photo, a warning sign is shown attached to a fence at the 'C' Tank Farm at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY NEWS RELEASE -- A state Administrative Order  issued today directs the federal government to begin removing radioactive liquid waste from a leaking double-shell tank at Hanford by Sept. 1, 2014.

The state Department of Ecology’s order requires pumping to begin about 18 months sooner than what the U.S. Department of Energy proposed in their revised pumping plan provided to the state on March 7.

Tank AY-102 was confirmed to be leaking into the tank’s secondary containment in October 2012. Since then, Ecology has been working with USDOE and their contractor to determine options for addressing the leaking tank. However, after months of discussions, it is clear that the federal government is not willing to address the regulatory requirements to remove the waste in a timely manner.

The contents of AY-102, which include about 850,000 gallons of liquid and sludge, are high in radioactivity and require cooling to control waste temperatures. A leak in the primary tank creates a serious concern about a failure of the critical waste cooling system, and an increased risk of a leak to the environment.

“In order to meet legal requirements and to provide public health and environmental protection, the state believes this leaking double-shell tank must be addressed in the most aggressive manner possible,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Waiting another two years, at best, to initiate actions to address this hazardous condition is neither legally acceptable nor environmentally prudent. The state cannot afford further delays on removing waste from this tank.”

Among other requirements, the Order directs USDOE to:

· Submit a report to Ecology within 90 days that evaluates the integrity of the secondary containment system, including the impacts of the waste currently in the annulus.
· Take monthly samples of liquid from the tank’s leak detection pit to address potential leaks to the environment.
· Conduct weekly video inspections of leaks and monthly video inspections of the annulus.
· Initiate the removal of solid waste (sludge) no later than Dec. 1, 2015.
· Complete removal of enough waste to allow for an inspection to determine the cause of the leak by Dec. 1, 2016.

Failure to comply with this order could result in fines for the federal government.