Thursday, August 19, 2010

Closing 177 Hanford Tanks: A Tough Task

By Jeff Lyon, Tank Waste Storage Project, Nuclear Waste Program

The Ecology Nuclear Waste Program provides oversight for cleanup of Hanford, a federal government site covering more than 500 square miles! About ten percent of it is contaminated with dangerous radioactive or chemical waste, and sometimes both. One part of the cleanup is treating the waste stored in large underground tanks. To treat the waste, the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) is building a Waste Treatment Plant (WTP).

The WTP is the biggest of its kind, incorporating thousands of miles of rebar and wiring and hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete. The unique facility will permanently combine the most radioactive waste with glass, immobilizing it and keeping it out of the environment. USDOE plans to start using the WTP in about 10 years.

Where to Start?
The first step in preparing the waste for treatment and meeting the Washington Dangerous Waste Requirements is to retrieve the waste from the older tanks and put it into newer tanks. There are 177 underground tanks grouped together in “Farms” or “Waste Management Areas” (WMAs). Many of the tanks (149) are old and no longer reliable. There are 28 newer tanks that we consider fit for use.

Closing the Farm
The first farm to be retrieved and closed is WMA-C or C-Farm. C-Farm has 16 tanks, and we hope to retrieve waste from all of them by September 2014. Our goal is to close C-Farm by 2019. We will be monitoring progress and approving the actions that will complete tank farm closure. We plan to have all of the older tank farms (7 total) closed by 2043 and all of the tanks closed by 2052.

We Need Your Input
This is a complex project, so communication with the public and tribal nations is important. We are issuing periodic C-Farm Updates describing tank-related cleanup work. We also developed Tank Closure 101 and Retrieving Tank Wastes at Hanford: The Basics to explain some of the general complexities of closing the tank farms.

I plan to post regular updates on progress at the tank farms, so let’s start a conversation. Take a look at our tank farm publications and send me your thoughts, opinions, and questions about this part of the cleanup. Hearing from the public will help the agencies make the best decisions possible.

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