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Up To 35,000 Gallons of Nuclear Waste Leak At Washington State Storage Site (rt.com) 135

An anonymous reader writes: Over the weekend, thousands of gallons of radioactive waste have leaked at a nuclear storage tank in Washington State. One worker called the leak "catastrophic." RT writes, "The Hanford Nuclear Reservation was originally constructed in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project." It produced plutonium for weapons, including the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The U.S. Department of Energy started removing what was left in the tank in March when workers discovered leaked waste had reached a depth of 8.4 inches. The Department of Energy calls the leak "anticipated," posing no threat to the public. Mike Geffre, the worker who discovered the leak, told King5 News, "This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors (to hold waste safely from people and the environment)." The double-wall storage tank AY-102 has been slowly leaking since 2011. It wasn't until March of this year that the U.S. Department of Energy began pumping the waste leftover in the tank.
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Up To 35,000 Gallons of Nuclear Waste Leak At Washington State Storage Site

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  • Too bad we didn't even try to manage it back in the day.
    • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @06:18PM (#51943483)

      I did a lot of service work in the 200 and 300 areas in Richland and at the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTR) at the Westinghouse-Hanford sites in the 80's and 90's.

      One thing I learned was that the Hanford Patrol would go out weekly into the desert surrounding the 200/300 areas and shoot a few rabbits, which were then brought back for radiation testing. These were informally called "bunny hunts" and "RRT's" ("radioactive rabbit tests", lol).

      It was (and still is) a viable way to find leaks of radioactive water from the storage tanks. The tank leaks, the water often pools in a gully or whatever, the rabbits drink the water, and the radioactive elements are easily detected in their blood and organs. If you start finding more than trace amounts then you've got a problem. They found problems more often than you might suspect.

      • Does it blend?

      • How do the rabbits taste?
        • by AJWM ( 19027 )

          Not that great, but the advantage is that they cook themselves.

          And they're real easy to hunt at night, what with the glow and all.

      • I did a lot of service work in the 200 and 300 areas in Richland and at the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTR) at the Westinghouse-Hanford sites in the 80's and 90's.

        One thing I learned was that the Hanford Patrol would go out weekly into the desert surrounding the 200/300 areas and shoot a few rabbits, which were then brought back for radiation testing. These were informally called "bunny hunts" and "RRT's" ("radioactive rabbit tests", lol).

        It was (and still is) a viable way to find leaks of radioactive water from the storage tanks. The tank leaks, the water often pools in a gully or whatever, the rabbits drink the water, and the radioactive elements are easily detected in their blood and organs. If you start finding more than trace amounts then you've got a problem. They found problems more often than you might suspect.

        Well that'll never work. You'll never catch the mutated super rabbits.

    • And, just for the sake of accuracy, it is radioactive waste, not "nuclear" waste. All waste has nuclei.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, but everything is radioactive too so there is that...

    • Too bad we didn't even try to manage it back in the day.

      Words that should be engraved over every government building entrance.

  • Facts? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:27PM (#51943179)

    3500 gallons (not 35,000) of water than contained some nuclear salts (not uranium, or anything else normally referred to as nuclear waste). People who break into the restricted area should refrain from licking the ground for a few decades. Everyone else has nothing to worry about.

    And it isn't surprising that a facility 70 years old, that can't get permission to rebuild, refurbish, or even empty because of ignorant Greenies, is falling apart. Maybe Greenpeace will allow the facility to build new holding tanks now, right?

    Nah.

    • Re:Facts? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:46PM (#51943295) Homepage

      Some googling suggests that AY-102 is in fact high level waste, targeted for vitrification for ultimate disposal as HLV.

      That said, this hype (which, by the way is what one would expect from the sources, a local news station and the Russian propaganda outlet RT) is totally unjustified. And then the Slashdot story makes it even worse, turning 3500 gallons into 35000 gallons.

      It's 3000-3500 gallons, leaked from the interior tank into the exterior tank. That's it. It's a known issue that's been around for quite some time - not just since March. And the double hull is doing its job - catching the contents of the inner tank in the event of a leak.

      They do need to get the stuff out of there - there is no third hull, and the outer hull doesn't have the air scrubbing of the inner hull. But that's underway.

      • And then the Slashdot story makes it even worse

        The hell you say, I don't detect any spin at all in the summary. These two sentences totally aren't in conflict being right next to each other:

        The Department of Energy calls the leak "anticipated," posing no threat to the public. Mike Geffre, the worker who discovered the leak, told King5 News, "This is catastrophic."

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Well there is one thing to detect there. Mike Geffre will shortly find himself out of a job. Unless you are the PR guy, you don't go releasing statements. Especially ones that contradict both (apparently) the facts and the bosses...
        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          How about if you add in the data point from the actual story.
          "Fortunately, there has been no indication that waste has made its way into a leak detection pit outside of the tank itself, the Seattle Times reported."

          • Except that the level in the outer space has mysteriously gone down from April 17 to April 18. It must have tunneled to another dimension, right? Or perhaps it is leaking into the environment. Would you really be surprised to learn that they are covering their asses and not telling the whole story. I would expect nothing less. We didn't hear about the leak in 2011, so they have already been covering their asses this long, why not any more?
            • The inner tank is being drained, perhaps some of the fluid in the outer tank migrated to the now more empty inner tank?

      • Re:Facts? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Stinky Cheese Man ( 548499 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @09:03PM (#51944379)

        this hype (which, by the way is what one would expect from... a local news station...) is totally unjustified.

        I totally agree with your conclusion. But, just FYI, King 5 News is not "local". It is based in Seattle -- about 200 miles from Hanford, and a world apart in attitudes. For actual local coverage, see this story [tri-cityherald.com]. It has more details and less hype than I have seen elsewhere.

      • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @10:41PM (#51944701)
        is we Americans are pretty much ignoring infrastructure expenses. What happens if the outer tank breaks? It's sorta like if my air bags go off. After that I probably want a new car. But to keep up the Car analogy we keep driving it and the next time we're dead.

        I'm also reminded of our response to Flint, MI's water crisis. Which is a big "meh". We can't even get a disaster fixed _after_ it happens. So I get nervous when I see a potential disaster that can (for some indeterminate amount of time) be ignored by a country with a long history of ignoring problems...
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Brett Buck ( 811747 )

          The green leftists are preventing any action by suing to stop work over and over.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Do you have a citation for this? Somehow I doubt it since there would be no reason for greenies to block building a new tank. It's okay, I get it, you hate environmentalists. A lot of them do block building new power plants but they certainly don't block maintenance.

          • All the right wing guys are like "hey, build it in my garden, please!". No they are NIMBYs too, with the added bonus of also being all for Nuclear, double down stupid.
      • by delt0r ( 999393 )
        This is obviously a mdsolar submission. Enough said.
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        Exactly fear sells. From the story.
        "Fortunately, there has been no indication that waste has made its way into a leak detection pit outside of the tank itself, the Seattle Times reported."

    • And more facts. (Score:5, Informative)

      by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @06:07PM (#51943423)

      'None of the waste appears to have escaped from Tank AY 102 into the environment, the contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, said.'

      The leak is between the inner liner and the outer liner, so actually ZERO has actually escaped.
      So, unlikely the retarded mdsolar style summary, the double shell tank has done EXACTLY what it was designed to.
      This is like complaining about a seatbelt and airbag doing its just after a minor accident where no one got hurt.

      Of course we cannot let facts get in the way of our good healthy radiation terror! All those years of duck-and-cover
      drills as the Reds rained nuclear death on our heads would have been wasted!

      • Why are you so frightened of nuclear waste? It can be very easy to deal with. Just don't make it.
        • Seeing as this was military waste from making bombs, go ahead and tell them that.
        • Yeah, that really helps after 60 years of waste has already been made.

          Why don't you go back to the 1940s and give General Leslie Groves your oh-so-insightful commentary and see how that works out.


      • The leak is between the inner liner and the outer liner, so actually ZERO has actually escaped.

        Quote from the article: "But workers were trying Monday to determine why the waste that leaked between the tank walls rose by about 8 inches on Sunday and then dropped by half an inch."

        Is it unreasonable to consider the possibility that the drop in 1/2 inch was the result of the outer tank leaking? I'm not saying it's true, but are we even allowed to suspect this without you calling us stupid? Possibiliti
        • The leak is between the inner liner and the outer liner, so actually ZERO has actually escaped. Quote from the article: "But workers were trying Monday to determine why the waste that leaked between the tank walls rose by about 8 inches on Sunday and then dropped by half an inch." Is it unreasonable to consider the possibility that the drop in 1/2 inch was the result of the outer tank leaking? I'm not saying it's true, but are we even allowed to suspect this without you calling us stupid? Possibilities may include evaporation (if that's possible for this material), a weird siphoning back into the inner tank (if that's possible), outer tank leakage, or numerous other things. The article did not rule out the possibility of the outer tank leaking.

          More liberal chicken little alarmism. Liquid levels have been rising and dropping for millions of years. It's an artifact of measurement. It's Urban Radiation Islands. It's the sun, through tides. It's cheaper to adapt to the leak than fix it. Eliminating nuclear power to eliminate the leak will take us back to the stone age. Radioactive elements are not pollution, they are a normal part of the natural environment. An increase in radioactivity in the environment will enhance agricultural productivity by i

      • is we Americans are pretty much ignoring infrastructure expenses. What happens if the outer tank breaks? It's sorta like if my air bags go off. After that I probably want a new car. But to keep up the Car analogy we keep driving it and the next time we're dead. I'm also reminded of our response to Flint, MI's water crisis. Which is a big "meh". We can't even get a disaster fixed _after_ it happens. So I get nervous when I see a potential disaster that can (for some indeterminate amount of time) be ignored
      • You have to remember that Hanford doesn't exactly have a long history of trust with the local populous. From the 'downwinders [wikipedia.org]' of the 1950s and 60s, and the several TBq of radioactive material that was released into the Columbia River daily for several decades [wikipedia.org], there isn't exactly a whole lot of "well if you say so" left in the local populations.

    • People who break into the restricted area should refrain from licking the ground for a few decades.

      FTFY: "People who break into the restricted area should refrain from licking the ground for a few hundred decades."

      As part of my on-site training there in the 80s/90s, I was warned not to eat any of the succulents or other vegetation that grows on the Hanford reservation (although to be fair there's not a lot that flourishes there that's edible).

    • People who break into the restricted area should refrain from licking the ground for a few decades. Everyone else has nothing to worry about.

      From TFA: "The problem occurred at the double-wall storage tank AY-102, which has actually been leaking since 2011. At the time, the leak was extremely small, and the waste would dry up almost right after spilling out between the inner and outer walls, leaving a salt-like substance behind."

      So, unless you break into the site, then cut a door in the outer wall of the

  • Other source (Score:5, Informative)

    by b0bby ( 201198 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:29PM (#51943195)

    A slightly less breathless account is at the Seattle Times:
    http://www.seattletimes.com/se... [seattletimes.com]

  • by RenHoek ( 101570 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:29PM (#51943199) Homepage

    Oh, the fools! If only they'd built it with 6,001 hulls! When will they learn?
      -- Fry

  • mdsolar (Score:5, Funny)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:29PM (#51943201) Homepage Journal
    C'mon....mdsolar we know it is you!
  • Leak? (Score:5, Informative)

    by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:30PM (#51943205)

    It leaked out of the inner tank and was contained by the outer tank. As designed.

    Catastrophic?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      In engineering space, a "catastrophic failure" is sometimes the terminology used to describe a single component failing. Not the actual scale or scope of the event. I could have a catastrophic failure of a wheel bearing, but safely stop and have a repair done, not a real catastrophe. FUD mongers will abuse this terminology intentionally, and then some will relay it out of ignorance.
      • Re:Leak? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @06:27PM (#51943543)

        In engineering space, a "catastrophic failure" is sometimes the terminology used to describe a single component failing.

        Correct. It's a failure that may, but not always, lead to a more significant and more serious failure condition. You can, for example, have a "catastrophic failure" of an airplane landing gear tire but still be able to land the plane safely.

        It's like when people say, "But evolution is just a theory!", not knowing that the word "theory" has a different meaning in a scientific context.

    • Re:Leak? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PraiseBob ( 1923958 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:54PM (#51943355)
      It doesn't seem catastrophic in terms of environmental damage so far. However, the two elements I find confusing are:

      1) an alarm in the annulus sounded after the waste level rose to more than 8 inches deep. Several hours later the waste level in the annulus dropped by about half an inch.

      If the waste is all contained in the outer hull, why did the water level in that hull go up and then down again?

      2) Less than 100 gallons of waste was estimated to have leaked into the annulus in recent years, drying in three separate patches.

      Wait... If it's sealed, how does it dry out?

      In both of those events, the water had to go somewhere right? There are really only two options, it either went back into the main tank, or escaped containment. Since workers are lowering gauges & pumps into the outer hull space, it would imply that the outer hull is not pressurized. Applying some basic fluid dynamics, means the waste isn't going back into the main tank, and apparently isn't going into their containment pit either: Hanford workers found no waste outside the tank in a leak-detection pit in an initial check Sunday, Holloway said.
      • Re:Leak? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@@@earthlink...net> on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @08:28PM (#51944237)

        Wait... If it's sealed, how does it dry out?

        My guess is that since the space between the outer and inner walls of the tank is quite large a small leak could mean that the water has evaporated and is part of the air in that space. If I make further assumptions that in this space the humidity is controlled with desiccants to prevent rust then the water is contained in those desiccant materials.

      • If the waste is all contained in the outer hull, why did the water level in that hull go up and then down again?

        That's the wrong question. The question is why did the alarm annunciate and then clear without intervention. Your question writes off one of the most likely possibilities to explore when investigating the issue: instrument failure.

        The instruments I trust the least are ones that operate on demand rather than continuously. It's very hard to calibrate, verify, or even identify if an instrument operating on demand is even working, and I have seen countless examples (admittedly not in the nuclear industry) of si

  • by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:32PM (#51943215)

    Estimates place the leak between 3000 and 3500 gallons. They've been pumping out the tank, which held 800,000 gallons at one point, and 20,000 gallons are left in it. There are now about 8 inches that have leaked between the layers of the inner tank and outer tank, the vast majority since they started pumping.

    So they stopped pumping, to figure out how to deal with that.

  • Clean, Safe and Too Cheap to Meter!

    • This waste is mostly from making nuclear weapons, not from nuclear power (they did produce electricity, but mostly as a side-effect). This place produced most of the USA's plutonium, and making weapons-grade plutonium isn't a tidy process.

    • I don't recall anyone saying those things about nuclear bombs, which was the primary purpose of the Hanford Site.
  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @05:37PM (#51943243)
    I will reserve that term when 1) I learn what is the content of the tank 2) the amount of becquerel released outside the plant if any. Without both those info it could be between catastrophic and "meh".
    • Catastrophic often means equipment failed. Catastrophic failure of a primary seal means stuff is getting out into the secondary seal. It's perfectly valid use of the term in engineering circles but doesn't mean the same thing that is implied in the media.

  • From TFA:

    Sources told KING the disturbance caused by the pumping must have exacerbated the leak: essentially blowing a hole in the aging tank allowing the material to leak more quickly into the outer shell... Tank AY-102 is one of 28 double-shell tanks at Hanford

    If I'm reading this right, they have a double-shell tank and then inner shell is leaking material into the outer shell. That's not good, but it doesn't sound like the material has escaped from the tank. The outer shell is there as a failsafe, and it seems to be doing its job. Am I missing something?

    PS. An RT.com article, really? A news source controlled by the Russian government has reason to exaggerate US failures.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Harry Reid has been keeping the set aside, safe unified location for nuclear waste in Nevada from having any nuclear waste put in it. Now that he's retiring the new senator might be overridden and we can finally start sticking waste there.

  • We were supposed to be leaking that nuclear waste into the already-radioactive wasteland that is Nevada, not the now-currently-radioactive wasteland that is Washington! Do you know what this is going to do to the real estate prices and local politics? You think Arizona got that way by accident?!

    On a more serious note, WTF nuclear industry?! This is why we can't have nice things!

    • This is not the 'nuclear industry', this is a site that supported the US weapons program, not nuclear power. Totally and completely different.
  • Lots of FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by shellster_dude ( 1261444 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2016 @07:55PM (#51944049)
    Until less than three years ago, I worked on the Hanford site. My father in law, still works on the site a regularly oversees and checks on tank levels. At least a couple times a year, there is a minor leak, and the media breathlessly goes screaming that the end of the world is nigh. It is rarely serious, but between the media's antinuclear stance, and the Hanford project's desperate need to drag out the project as long as possible, for jobs, these things get over-reported. At this point, all the waste has been relocated from single shelled tanks to double shelled tanks where it is waiting disposal at their vitrification plant that was recently finished. None of this waste actually leaked anywhere. What it means is that one of the innermost shells on one of the tanks has finally failed significantly. The waste is still contained. This isn't a surprise as even the double shelled tanks are getting old, hence the plan to vitrify (glassify the waste).
    • This isn't a surprise as even the double shelled tanks are getting old, hence the plan to vitrify (glassify the waste).

      Which is fairly expensive, and a waste of future nuclear fuel that we'll want to use when technology advances. A plan with no drawbacks?

  • 35000 gallons are equivalent to 132490 liters.

  • It seems like the Molten Salt reactors can take a number of different elements.
    I just wonder if we can burn up some of these liquid wastes, rather than having them sit around making a mess.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      It's not very active stuff, so no. Nuclear waste covers a very wide range between dangerous enough to keep away from people to active enough to actually be useful as fuel. The less active stuff, which is by far the majority, is not all that difficult to deal with it still requires some attention despite some people pretending it does not exist.

      The "there is no waste only fuel" people are cynical tricksters selling something.
  • I've followed the efforts to renew the nuclear power industry for some time now and there are several people that claim to have nuclear reactor designs that can destroy nuclear waste from solid fuel nuclear power reactors. This waste is not from a reactor made to produce power but the reactors used for power and those to produce plutonium are quite similar.

    If I understand the issue correctly it seems this waste is from the production of plutonium and contains some very nasty medium lived wastes. The short

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      If these waste annihilating reactors can do what they claim

      Third parties and clueless fanboys are claiming a lot more than anyone who knows anything about these reactors are claiming. They get more out of spent fuel and expired weapon materials than other reactor designs. It's not remotely close to a solution to some other high level waste, most medium level waste or any low level waste.
      So not an imaginary magic wand just another real thing in the toolbox.

  • Is this even real? RT publishes a lot of nonsense, particularly anti-nuclear nonsense RT is just a propaganda weapon for Putin, and it puts out a lot of stuff to try and discredit the West, and vilify the American government, plus others...
  • what goes around and drops on people comes around and laks into the groundwater.

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