New photographs obtained by KING 5 show additional chemically contaminated and radioactive waste leaked from a massive underground double-shell tank at the Hanford Site. The color photographs are frames from a video inspection of the sludge taken on June 12.
Hanford engineers evaluated the images and circled areas of additional material noted since the previous inspection conducted eight days earlier on June 3. The new pictures show more bright green liquid than workers had seen before. The presence of green, wet material means it is new.
The tank -- known as AY-102 -- holds 860,000 gallons of radioactive waste generated during decades of plutonium production at the southeastern Washington reservation. The tank has been at the center of a multi-part investigation by KING 5.
The sources who spoke with KING 5 said the amount of waste that has spilled out of the primary tank into the annulus; the hollow space separating the tank's inner and outer walls -- has grown substantially in recent months. And the most recent video inspection on Tuesday showed a slight increase from what was documented on June 12.
Despite that, on Wednesday U.S. Dept. of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he'd seen the latest photos taken on Tuesday and that the leak had not grown. Sec. Moniz visited Hanford for the first time since taking office a month ago. He made the comments at a short briefing with journalists in Richland prior to his tour.
Last week a spokesman for Washington River Protection Solutions [WRPS], the government contractor that manages all of the 177 underground nuclear waste storage tanks at Hanford, said only a small amount of liquid has leaked.
"AY-102 continues to leak small amounts of waste material into its annulus. The current best estimate is that the liquid volume at the leak accumulation site has increased from approximately 0.2 gallons on September 26, 2012, to approximately 0.4 gallons on June 12, 2013.The increase between the last two inspections was approximately 0.1 gallons or about the contents of a 12-ounce can of soda," the spokesman said.
AY-102 is the first double-shell tank at Hanford to leak, posing a significant setback to the federal government's plan to keep the waste secure for decades while a permanent treatment plant is built and put into operation.
In a series of reports the KING 5 Investigators showed how evidence of the AY-102 leak was ignored for a year before WRPS conducted an investigation and made the leak public in October, 2012. The reporters also exposed that the contractor wasted millions of tax dollars on Tank AY-102 engineering work, project management and tank upgrades during the same months managers discounted the leak evidence. The work is of no use now because the tank is broken.
Since KING 5's series began, Gov. Jay Inslee has called for a review of the situation, and the Department of Energy ordered WRPS to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its tank farm operations. WRPS formed a safety committee to create alarm response procedures that were not in place when the leak first presented itself in 2011. In addition WRPS President Mike Johnson abruptly announced his retirement after only 14 months on the job.