Federal agency criticized for delay in pumping Hanford tank

SPOKANE, Wash. — A Hanford watchdog group on Monday criticized the federal government’s plan to wait at least two years to begin emptying a nuclear waste storage tank that is leaking.

The group Hanford Challenge said that delay is too much.

“The news that it will take two years to be ready to pump the failed radioactive waste tank at Hanford is alarming and unacceptable,” said Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge. “DOE was supposed to be ready to pump any failed tank, by law, within 48 hours of notice of its failure. Hanford gave that notice a year and a half ago.”

The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday presented the state of Washington with its plan for emptying the double-walled storage tank known as AY-102. The underground tank is located within the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland.

The plan said pumping would not begin before March 2016, although preparations would start much sooner. Once pumped out, the waste would be put into other, double-walled tanks until a factory can be completed that would turn the waste into a glass-like material for burial.

The tank, the oldest of the giant, double-walled tanks at Hanford, contains radioactive wastes left over from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The plan said the Energy Department will start buying equipment and making other plans to remove radioactive waste from the tank.

Three leaks have been discovered between the walls of the double-shell tank in the past year and a half. At more than 40 years old, the tank has outlived its planned lifespan of about 20 years.

No waste is believed to have escaped into the soil beneath the tank.

According to the pumping plan, preparations for retrieving waste would be done in two phases. The first phase, to be completed by November 2015, would include a design, the purchase of equipment and installation of the equipment outside the tank.

Then DOE would determine when waste retrieval equipment should be installed inside the tank and when waste removal should begin.

DOE confirmed in October 2012 that Tank AY-102 had leaked waste from its inner shell. The waste was known to be in two places in the space between the two shells. Last week, the agency revealed that waste had been found in a third place between the shells. The waste had not been seen when video had been shot of the same spot in September 2012.

The Energy Department does not know the location of the leak.

The Hanford site has 28 double-walled tanks that are being used to hold waste emptied from 149 older, single-walled tanks. One single-shell tank is known to be leaking waste into the ground, and 67 were suspected of leaking waste in the past before much of the liquid waste they held was removed.

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