Monday, February 25, 2013

Why the Leaking Underground Tanks at Hanford Have Nothing to Do With Used Nuclear Fuel at US Nuclear Power Plants

Late on Friday night Washington Gov. Jay Insleee announced the following news:
Six underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington state were recently found to be leaking radioactive waste, but there is no immediate risk to human health, state and federal officials said on Friday.

The seeping waste adds to decades of soil contamination caused by leaking storage tanks at Hanford in the past and threatens to further taint groundwater below the site but poses no near-term danger of polluting the Columbia River, officials said.

The newly discovered leaks were revealed by Governor Jay Inslee a week after the U.S. Energy Department disclosed that radioactive waste was found to be escaping from one tank at Hanford.

Inslee said he was informed on Friday by outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu that a total of six of the aging, single-walled tanks were leaking radioactive waste.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 5 miles from the Columbia River," Inslee said in a statement released by his office. "But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians."
While most of our readers understand that there's no connection between these tanks full of defense waste and the used nuclear fuel that's stored safely at plant sites around the country, that hasn't stopped some members of the media from coming to that conclusion -- something that James Conca at Forbes ably pointed out over the weekend.

To recap some quick takeaways:
  • Commercial reactor fuel is solid material, not liquid like the material at Hanford.
  • Commercial reactor fuel is securely stored in steel-lined concrete vaults or steel and concrete containers above ground.
  • Storage facilities at nuclear energy facilities are licensed and inspected by independent regulators.
In order to help dispel the confusion, we've published a fact sheet on the topic and made it available on our website a few minutes ago. Click here to read that document, "No Similarity Between Commercial Reactor Fuel Storage, Leaking Underground Waste Tanks at DOE’s Hanford Site."

For more on how the industry safely stores used nuclear fuel, please check out this interactive graphic.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Nor is there any connection between the Fukishima nuclear fuel storage pools that overheated and expelled radioactive material into the air and the Hanford tanks that are leaking liquid waste into the ground in the desert of eastern Washington.

Anonymous said...

No relationship whatever between what is happening at Hanford any any problems with the Fukushima SFPs. The basic physics are totally different. The problems at Hanford are the result of a very slow chemical corrosion process occurring over a long period of time, resulting in very slow leagage of relatively small amounts of material. Any overheating of the Fukushima SFPs was the result of the tsunami damaging systems that supplied electrical power to coolant circulation pumps. Decay heat from fission products was the heat source, there were no chemical reactions that drove any release of effluents. The issues at Hanford would have occurred even if we had never developed commercial nuclear energy in this country. Hanford is a weapons program legacy, totally unrelated to the nuclear power industry.

Joffan said...

@Unknown - The spent fuel storage pools at Fukushima Daiichi didn't expel radioactive material into the air. The contamination there came from the three reactor meltdowns. So there is perhaps even less relevance than you think, in addition to the points above by Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

The material in Tank T-111 was generated as a by-product of the efforts of "the greatest generation" who anticipating using the results to kill Hitler and end the genocide in Europe. The need for that was overtaken by events (the relentless sacrifices of the combined armed forces of the Allies). The product was then repurposed for use in convincing the leaders of Japan to end the war in the Pacific. Subsequent strata in the tank resulted from further efforts to prevent Stalin from domination of Europe and probably the rest of the world. Anyone who feels that any of this was somehow "not worth it" needs to wake up and read some history. The fact that the material still lies in these tanks stems from the loss of will shown by our government going back at least thirty years. Apparently it is easier to get elected and re-elected if you close your eyes to real problems and hope someone else will take them off your plate. Ironic that what should be the easiest part of the job proves to be the hardest to achieve.

Anonymous said...

The projects that resulted In these tanks had both positive and negative effects. My primary complaint is that the waste management efforts have been underfunded for so long. Perhaps using this remote site to test some deep burn reactors might make some of that waste interesting as fuel.