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article imageRadioactive contamination found on Hanford worker's clothing

By Karen Graham     May 20, 2017 in Science
Seattle - Just when DOE officials were thinking contractors had everything under control, a worker at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state got radioactive contamination on his clothing, prompting another investigation.
This latest incident follows a tunnel collapse two weeks ago that sparked fears of a radiation leak at the site. Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the contractor working at the site, said a worker was removing a robotic device out of the space between the double walls of Tank AZ-101 on Thursday evening when the incident occurred.
Workers immediately noticed a radiation monitoring device was detecting radiation levels three times higher than what was acceptable. Workers left the area immediately, said the company, which operates the storage tanks for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Contamination was found on the clothing of one of the workers.
The Hanford site  along the Columbia River.
The Hanford site, along the Columbia River.
United States Department of Energy
“Established decontamination procedures were followed, which involves removing the contaminated clothing. Further surveying the worker showed no contamination remained. No other workers were affected, and all members of the crew were cleared for normal duty,” said WRPS spokesman Peter Bengtson, according to WTVR Richmond.
Radioactive waste holding tanks past their useful lifespan
King5.com, a local NBC affiliate in Washington gave some insight into the problem with the huge double-shelled nuclear waste holding tank that may be leaking.
The tank, designated AZ 101 was put into service in 1976 and was expected to have a life of 20 years. However, the tank has been holding hot, boiling radioactive and chemically contaminated waste for 41 years.
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King5/Susannah Frame
WRPS is in charge of all 177 of the underground waste storage tanks on the Hanford site. Only 28 of the tanks have double shells. The double-shelled tanks were built to withstand the test of time, or at least until a more permanent solution was found for the radioactive waste.
But again, things aren't going well, and if AZ 101 is leaking, this will be the second double-shelled tank to fail. "We are of course concerned it might be a leak," a Washington state Department of Ecology spokesperson said. Washington state Governor Jay Inslee called on the federal government to investigate the first incident, and after Thursday's incident, he had this to say:
"Today's alarming incident at Hanford elevates the urgency of the federal government to prioritize and fund all critical cleanup at this aging nuclear reservation," Inslee said in a statement. "We are not aware of any nuclear waste leaking outside the AZ-101 double-shelled tank, but we expect the U.S. Department of Energy to immediately investigate and report on the source of contamination.
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King5/Susannah Frame
The Department of Energy was quick to acknowledge the incident had occurred on Thursday evening but stopped short of saying whether DOE officials would actually investigate the incident.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson was quoted by the Seattle Times as saying the latest incident only strengthened his resolve to push harder for the DOE to finish cleaning up the sprawling nuclear site, which has been forecast to last until 2060.
“The risks at Hanford to workers and the environment are all too real, and today’s news is just another illustration of how tenuous the situation is,” Ferguson said Friday. “This isn’t the first potential leak, and it won’t be the last.”
More about Hanford nuclear site, Radiation, worker's clothing, visual examination, Robots
 
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