April 17, 2013

Work halts amidst unresolved design and safety flaws at Hanford

A treatment plant that the Energy Department is counting on to stabilize the radioactive waste at the nation's largest environmental cleanup project, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, has design problems that could lead to chemical explosions, inadvertent nuclear reactions and mechanical breakdowns, a federal advisory panel warned on Tuesday.

The panel, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, said the waste was also not safe where it was now, in leaking tanks that have long put dangerous pollutants into the soil a few miles from the Columbia River. In addition to the leaks, the board said, radioactive sludge and liquids in the tanks produce hydrogen that could burn and further disperse the waste.

Construction on the project finally began in October 2001. Two years ago, the plant was expected to cost $12.2 billion, but the schedule, and the price, have grown since then. The Energy Department does not have a current estimate for the plant's cost and completion date.

The project also has issues, apparently still not resolved, about whether managers have sought to intimidate professional staff members who raised safety questions. The board investigated and agreed that the site had "a flawed safety culture" that was "inhibiting the identification and resolution of technical and safety issues."

For now, the agency has stopped work on some sections of the plant while it tries to figure out how to solve the problems.
Post a Comment