The U.S Department of Energy [DOE] on Friday submitted its report to the Washington State Dept. of Ecology on what it plans to do about the first-ever double-shell nuclear waste tank to leak at Hanford. The 21-page "241-AY-102 Pumping Plan" spells out steps the federal government and its tank farm contractor will take over the next six years to prepare for the removal of radioactive material from the one-million gallon underground storage tank.
The DOE plan predicts it will take until 2019 to remove the contents of the tank and transfer it to other double-shell tanks at the nuclear facility.
Tank AY-102 has been at the center of a multi-part investigation by the KING 5 Investigators, “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets”. KING 5's reported exposed that the government contractor in charge of all of the tanks -- Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) -- discounted scientific evidence and employee warnings that the tank was leaking for nearly a year before conducting a thorough investigation in August 2012. The DOE announced publicly the tank was leaking toxic sludge from its primary tank into the hollow space between the two tank shells on October 22, 2012 – a full year after the first alarm went off indicating a leak was underway.
Federal regulations call for an immediate response to a leaking tank. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 40.264.196 directs that “A tank system or secondary containment system from which there has been a leak or spill, or which is unfit for use, must be removed from service immediately.” CFR 40.264.196 (b) also directs a speedy pumping of the tank to protect the environment, groundwater, and human health. “Removal of waste from tank system or secondary containment system. (1) If the release was from the tank system, the owner/operator [US Dept. of Energy which owns Hanford] must, within, 24 hours after detection of the leak, or if the owner/operator demonstrates that it is not possible, at the earliest practicable time.”
The DOE explains in the pumping plan that it will take more than a year-and-a-half to plan, buy and install needed equipment for pumping of the solids in the tank. After that, according to the document, it will take until 2019 to finish additional engineering designs, remove tank equipment, construct additional tank infrastructure, and pump out the mix of solids and liquids in the massive tank.
“They’re obviously not prepared and were not prepared to handle leaking tanks at Hanford. The law doesn’t allow for seven years to remove the waste. They don’t even have the equipment to carry out the job. This should be unacceptable to the state of Washington,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, a citizen watchdog group based in Seattle.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Ecology, state officials will begin to review the plan on Monday morning.
In May, Washington State Ecology Director Maia Bellon told KING 5 she had high expectations of the plan. She said if the federal government didn’t deliver an acceptable path forward to mitigate the potential dangers of the leaking tank the state would consider legal action.
“I’m giving them an opportunity to give me this plan for how they’re going to respond to the leaking double shell tank, AY 102, and then I will be doing a full assessment with my staff at the nuclear waste program as well as my lawyers about future action,” said Bellon. “The Department of Energy knows that I have tools available to me and that I’m going to keep all of those options available if an appropriate response isn’t provided to us on June 14th about a future resolution and remedy to this leaking tank situation.”
Watch: Hanford's Dirty Secrets