Washington and DOE reach an agreement on leaking Hanford tanks

August 26, 2022, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
The B Farm underground waste tank area at Hanford. (Photo: DOE)

Washington state’s Department of Ecology and the U.S. Department of Energy have agreed on a plan for how to respond to two underground tanks that are leaking radioactive waste, as well as any future tank leaks, at the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash.

In April 2021, following a year-long leak assessment, the DOE announced that Hanford’s Tank B-109 is leaking waste into the surrounding soil. Tank T-111 was discovered to be leaking in 2013. Currently, Tank B-109 is leaking about 1.5 gallons of waste per day, and Tank T-111 is leaking less than a gallon a day, according to the DOE.

To address these environmental concerns, Washington state and the DOE have worked collaboratively and developed a legally binding agreed order.

Background: Approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste resulting from the production of weapons plutonium is currently stored in 177 underground storage tanks at the center of the Hanford Site. Most of these tanks—149 of the 177—are single-shell tanks built with a welded carbon steel liner and encased within a concrete shell.

Both Tank B-109 and T-111 are single-shell tanks. Tank B-109 holds about 123,000 gallons of waste, most of which is saltcake and sludge, with about 13,000 gallons of residual liquid. T-111 holds an estimated 397,000 gallons of waste, about 37,000 gallons of which is liquid waste within sludge.

The plan: Under the agreed order, the DOE will do the following:

  • Cover Hanford’s T and B tank farms with surface barriers to prevent rain or snowmelt from seeping into the tanks and to slow the migration of leaked waste toward the groundwater.
  • Develop a response plan for future leaks from single-shell tanks.
  • Evaluate the viability of installing a ventilation system to evaporate liquid waste in Tank B-109.
  • Evaluate conditions in and around Tanks B-109 and T-111 to determine if additional work is needed to prevent liquids from getting in.
  • Explore ways to accelerate the schedule to retrieve waste from tanks T-111 and B-109.

As the new agreement is implemented, the public will have the several opportunities to provide input during the permitting process for the different proposed actions.

They said it: “It’s been a priority for the state of Washington to address leaking tanks in a way that protects nearby communities and the Columbia River,” said Department of Ecology director Laura Watson. “We know that ongoing vigilance and commitment will be needed to fully address these risks, but I appreciate the work put in by both teams to agree on a plan that prioritizes safety and environmental protection.”

Brian Vance, manager of the DOE’s Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office, added, “I appreciate the effective collaboration with the Ecology team in reaching an agreement that supports our continued focus on safe, efficient, and effective stewardship, treatment, and disposition of tank waste.”

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