State demands pumping of Hanford tank

RICHLAND — The state on Friday demanded that the federal government begin removing radioactive liquid waste from a nuclear waste tank at the Hanford Site by Sept. 1.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s order requires pumping of the double-walled tank to begin about 18 months sooner than what the U.S. Department of Energy has proposed.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and the site contains the nation’s largest supply of radioactive wastes.

Double-walled Tank AY-102 was found to be leaking between its walls in October 2012. While many older single-walled tanks have leaked at Hanford, this is the first of the newer double-walled tanks where leaks have been detected.

The Ecology Department said that after months of discussions, it’s clear the Energy Department is not willing to pump the tank in a timely manner.

The agency said failure to comply with its administrative order could result in fines for the federal government.

“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,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said. “Waiting another two years, at best, to initiate actions to address this hazardous condition is neither legally acceptable nor environmentally prudent.”

The Energy Department, which owns Hanford, issued a statement saying it was committed to the safe cleanup of the site.

“We are disappointed that the director of the Washington State Department of Ecology chose to send an administrative order to pump AY-102 without advanced notice to the department,” the statement said. “The department believes there are risks associated with pumping Tank AY-102 at this time. The tank is not leaking into the environment, and there is no immediate threat to the public or the environment posed by AY-102.”

Underground Tank AY-102 contains about 850,000 gallons of liquid and sludge that is high in radioactivity and requires cooling to control waste temperatures, the state said.

In 2012, nuclear waste was found in the space between the two walls, which is called the annulus. No waste is thought to have escaped into the environment. But a leak in the primary tank creates concerns about a failure of the waste-cooling system and an increased risk of a leak to the environment, the state said.

In the order, the state also demanded the Energy Department submit a report within 90 days that evaluates the integrity of the secondary containment system; 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 space between the walls; initiate the removal of solid waste no later than Dec. 1, 2015; and remove enough waste to allow for an inspection to determine the cause of the leak by Dec. 1, 2016.

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