Workers labored at the “C” Tank Farm at the Hanford nuclear reservation, near Richland, Wash. Newly released documents show significant construction flaws in some newer, double-walled storage tanks at the nuclear waste complex.

Ted S. Warren • Associated Press,

Concerns raised about flaws in Hanford, Wash., nuclear waste tanks

  • Article by: Matthew L. Wald
  • New York Times
  • March 1, 2014 - 6:42 PM

– Most of the youngest and sturdiest of the giant tanks that the Energy Department uses to store high-level radioactive waste at its Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state show some of the same construction problems as a tank that began leaking in late 2012, according to documents released by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whose state is across the Columbia River from the site.

The Energy Department is counting on the tanks, built in the 1960s and 1970s, to last for decades more, and it has pumped into them thousands of gallons of radioactive liquids scavenged from older tanks that leaked or at risk of leaking.

Wyden, who is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, pointed out in a letter sent Friday to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that at the time of the 2012 leak, the department said, “It seems unlikely that the other double-shell tanks in similar circumstances would have been similarly affected.”

But now, Wyden said, it is evident that most have some of the same problems.

“It is not merely that the design of the tanks and internal components are a problem, but it now appears that the physical integrity of the tanks themselves is compromised,” he wrote, citing Energy Department documents.

“It is time for the department to stop hiding the ball and pretending that the situation at Hanford is being effectively managed,” Wyden wrote.

But at the Hanford site, Thomas Fletcher, the assistant manager for tank farms, said a leak affecting one tank did not necessarily mean that others would have similar problems. The leaking tank had a particularly large amount of radioactive material and thus a very high temperature, which promoted problems, he said, and had less corrosion-inhibiting chemicals than other tanks.

“Since we can’t see the bottom, we can’t confirm that,” he said. “But that is our engineering postulation.”

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