I have some questions as Ecology’s Tank Systems, Operations, and Closure Project Manager:
- How long should we wait to close the 149 single-shell tanks (SSTs) at Hanford?
- What are the risks to humans and the environment if we wait?
- If we wait for more money or better cleanup technologies (we may never get either), what should we do about the current soil contamination?
- What will it take to make our decision more certain?
Part of the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) is to prioritize Hanford cleanup, and the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) schedules that work. One of the TPA milestones is to close all SSTs by 2043. The first of seven waste management areas (WMAs), WMA-C, is scheduled to close by 2019. The schedule requires the remaining six WMAs to be finished in the following 24 years (about one every 4 years). We still have a very long way to go, which makes a good case for finishing WMA-C as soon as we can.
I’m reminded of my high school shop teacher’s motto: You’re not done with your work until you clean up your mess.
All I need to know I learned in shop classI came onto the tank farms project when USDOE was still performing interim stabilization of SSTs. Interim stabilization meant pumping out all the liquids to stop potential leaks, and that work is mostly done. However, dangerous chemical and radioactive sludge and solids still remain in the tanks.
|Hanford tank farm workers use Geiger counters to measure radiation.|
Then, while retrieving waste from a tank, a gasket in a hose-in-hose transfer line failed, which led to an investigation and enforcement actions. After this, the agencies realized that leaving the lines lying around was not good housekeeping, deciding they must all be removed and properly disposed.
At about the same time, the double-shell tank upgrades were moving forward. When contractors opened old valve boxes, again hoses from transfers performed decades ago remained. Upgrades were more difficult because of the mess left behind.
With those experiences in mind, I don’t want to leave an important step in tank closure half done. We need to finish WMA-C.
We have done a lot of important work, including soil studies and closure planning. But work slowdowns and budget cuts continue to worry me. The TC & WM EIS confirms that the contamination is serious and that the groundwater problems we already face will worsen the longer we wait.
So our advice to USDOE includes my shop teacher’s motto:
Don’t wait! Meet the scheduled deadlines for closing WMA-C. You’re not done until you finish cleaning up!