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article imageRadioactive contamination at closed Hanford facility is spreading

By Karen Graham     Jan 3, 2017 in Environment
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in central Washington State is North America's largest nuclear waste dump. Inside the vast site, one deteriorating facility known as the REDOX plant is now spreading radioactive contamination, based on a new report.
A new Department of Energy report was issued in December on the spread of radioactive contamination within the Hanford site, specifically focusing on the Reduction-Oxidation Complex, more commonly called REDOX, according to the Tri-City Herald on Monday.
The REDOX complex was used for the chemical separation of plutonium from irradiated fuel rods from 1952 through 1967. These operations resulted in contaminated buildings and structures within the complex, including the 202S Building (Canyon, Silo, and Annex), 276S Hexone Storage Tanks, and the 293S Nitric Acid and Iodine Recovery Building, according to the Associated Press.
The red mark in the center of the map gives the approximate location of the REDOX facility.
The red mark in the center of the map gives the approximate location of the REDOX facility.
Hanford Nuclear Reservation
Approximately 24,000 tons of irradiated uranium fuel rods were processed at the REDOX plant to remove plutonium for use in the U.S. nuclear weapons program, as well as Uranium to re-use in new fuel rods. Needless to say, the facility is highly contaminated after processing eight-times more fuel rods than earlier versions of the plant.
The Department of Energy has opened a public comment period that ends on January 20, 2017, on its proposal to spend $181 million on interim cleanup and maintenance of the plant site.
Information on annual inspections between 2012 and 2015 show that in some parts of the plant, the rate of radioactive contamination spread is escalating and doing some work on the buildings is needed to prevent the spread of radioactive contamination outside the buildings, reports Oregon Live.
There is already evidence of animal intrusion which needs to be fixed. Additionally, there is the very real fear that a fire or a break in corroded utility pipes could spread the contamination to the outside world. The Department of Energy says that right now, there is no danger to the public, but something needs to be done now.
The main part of the plant has not been entered since 1997. It is huge and cavernous, measuring 468 feet long, 161 feet wide and 60 feet tall. And that doesn't include the underground processing area. But “based on current conditions in areas where surveillance inspections are performed, water accumulation, animal intrusion, structure deterioration and contamination spread are expected,” the report said.
The DOE report also says that doing the necessary work to prevent the spread of the radioactive contamination would help to retain workers skilled in decommissioning nuclear facilities. They will be needed as more funding becomes available in the future for environmental cleanup, an iffy subject under the incoming president.
An excavator carefully picks up a drum overpack containing deadly nuclear waste at the 618-10 Burial...
An excavator carefully picks up a drum overpack containing deadly nuclear waste at the 618-10 Burial Ground, one of Hanford's most hazardous.
United States Department of Energy
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation cleanup
The Hanford site was divided into four sections on June 25, 1988. The EPA, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Energy department formed a tri-agency agreement to clean up the site, according to Digital Journal. There were, of course, several challenges to overcome, involving technical, political, regulatory and cultural interests. While those issues are ongoing, the focus was on cleanup.
It was expected that the work of cleaning up and decontaminating the site would take about 30 years to complete. So far, the federal government has been spending about $2 billion annually, using around 11,000 people working to round up, clean up, and remove waste, contaminated buildings, and contaminated soil. By 2008, the job was less than half finished. Today, the cleanup is not much further along.
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