Nuclear Dump in Washington Leaking Radioactive Waste

Nuclear Dump in Washington Leaking Radioactive Waste

Repeated calls to address problems at facility ‘met with silence’ by state and federal officials
February 16 2013

Reports that a storage tank for nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear facility in Washington state–one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in the country–is leaking radioactive waste were confirmed that state’s governor Friday.

The news raises concerns about the integrity of similar tanks at south-central Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation and puts added pressure on the federal government to resolve construction problems with the plant being built to alleviate environmental and safety risks from the waste.

The tanks, which are already long past their intended 20-year life span, hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy said liquid levels are decreasing in one of 177 underground tanks at the site. Monitoring wells near the tank have not detected higher radiation levels, but Inslee said the leak could be in the range of 150 gallons to 300 gallons over the course of a year and poses a potential long-term threat to groundwater and rivers.

The Northwest News Network, in an interview with Tom Carpenter, head of the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge, found that Friday’s news highlights the fact that problems have been endemic to the site for years and there’s not even a place to transfer the contained waste or a place to return any that may be recovered from spills or leaks.

“If you have another leak, what do you do?,” ask Carpenter.  “You don’t have any strategy for that. And the Hanford Advisory Board and the state of Washington and Hanford Challenge and others have been calling upon the Department of Energy to build new tanks. That call has been met with silence.”

And the Chicago Tribune adds:

Though more than a third of the 149 old single-shell tanks at the site are suspected to have leaked up to 1 million gallons of nuclear waste over the years, this is the first confirmed leak since federal authorities completed a so-called stabilization program in 2005 that was supposed to have removed most liquids from the vulnerable single-shell tanks.

The new leak calls into question the effectiveness of that program, and state officials said it increased the urgency of ending roadblocks to a permanent storage solution for the 53 million gallons of waste housed at the sprawling site that was a center for atomic bomb-making material after World War II. Source

Also while speaking of  weapons grade Plutonium.

Liquid bomb-grade uranium to be shipped secretly from Chalk River to U.S.

By Ian MacLeod,  February 10, 2013

OTTAWA — Nuclear officials are preparing to secretly transport a toxic stew of liquid bomb-grade uranium by armed convoy from Chalk River to a South Carolina reprocessing site.

The “high priority” mission marks the first time authorities have attempted to truck highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in a liquid solution, prompting nuclear safety advocacy groups on both sides of the border to sound the alarm for greater government scrutiny.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has confirmed the plan to the Citizen. It follows Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment at last year’s global nuclear security summit to return HEU inventories to the United States to lessen the risk of nuclear terrorism.

Officials with CNSC and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which operates Chalk River Laboratories, say federal law prohibits publicly releasing details about the mission, including the number of transport truck trips involved, the routing through Eastern Ontario and the timing.
But documents filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) suggest many truck trips will be required and could begin in August.

This does seem to be an unprecedented, cross-border shipment of liquid high-level waste and, for that reason alone, it needs the highest order of environmental review on both sides of the border,” says Tom Clements, a South Carolina campaign co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth and former executive-director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington.

Small amounts of HEU in solid form have long been exported, without incident, by the U.S. to Canada for the production of medical isotopes at Chalk River’s NRU reactor.

What’s different this time is the HEU to be transported for reprocessing at the U.S. government’s Savannah River Site is in liquid form and believed to from Chalk River’s controversial Fissile Solution Storage Tank, or FISST.

The 24,000-litre waste tank is largely unknown outside the nuclear establishment, but within the industry in Canada and internationally, it is a source of persistent unease.

The double-walled, stainless-steel vessel contains 17 years’ worth of an intensely radioactive acidic solution from the production of molybdenum-99, a vital medical isotope produced by irradiating HEU “targets.

The liquid must be carefully monitored, mixed and warmed to prevent it from solidifying and — in a worst-case scenario — potentially achieving a self-sustaining chain reaction of fissioning atoms called criticality.

The energy and heat from such a chain reaction could potentially rupture the tank, release the solution into the environment and endanger anyone nearby. There would be no danger of a nuclear explosion.

Not surprisingly, FISST is under constant surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Commission for any hint of an accidental atomic chain reaction.

Taken out of service around 2003, FISST is believed to be near-full and sitting inside a thick, in-ground concrete vault in a building two hours northwest of Ottawa. In the years since, HEU-bearing liquid waste produced during isotope production has been solidified and placed in secure storage.

The FISST’s chief ingredient is an estimated 175 kilograms of HEU containing 93 per cent uranium-235, the isotope that sustains a fission chain reaction. Also present are plutonium, tritium, other fission products and mercury. About 20 kilograms to 45 kilograms of HEU is considered sufficient to construct a small nuclear weapon or a Hiroshima-sized bomb.

NRC documents note that the radioactive payload to be removed from Canada, “is highly enriched target material,” containing 7.2 grams of HEU per litre, which precisely matches the description and composition of the FISST’s contents.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. had planned to take until 2020 to resolve the FISST issue, but CNSC staff have said they want it dealt with during Chalk River Laboratories’ current five-year-operating licence, which expires Oct. 31, 2016.

Earlier this month, Clements made a formal request to the U.S. Department of Energy for an extensive and public environmental hearing before the radioactive shipments are approved. He said a 1996 U.S. environmental review of HEU shipments to Savannah River did not consider the implications surrounding liquid HEU.

The Canadian group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Responsibility is urging Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver to do the same here.

But NRC documents on the issue call for an “expedited” certification review of a plan to transport the HEU liquid waste in stainless-steel casks originally designed to carry dry nuclear waste, such as spent fuel rods from reactors.

NAC International Inc., a U.S. company specializing in nuclear packaging and transport, is seeking NRC and CNSC approvals to use its NAC-LWT (legal weight truck) cask system to haul the radioactive liquid from Canada, something that the CNSC and other experts say has never been done before.

In documents, NRC officials characterize the request as, “a high priority for review to support the (U.S.) Department of Energy’s Global Threat Reduction Program,” to reduce civilian use of weapons-grade uranium. The company filed the request, with supporting technical data, on Dec. 28.

In a Jan. 31 reply to the company, the NRC said it wants the company to produce more technical information about the viability and safety of using the casks to transport liquid HEU. It gave the company two weeks to comply, adding if all goes well, approval could be expected by May 10.

The company did not respond to requests for comments late last week.

The CNSC has a separate review underway of the proposed change to the cask payload, one of several approvals required on both sides of the border before the radioactive waste can be moved along continental roads and highways.

No HEU transport is authorized without CNSC approval in order to ensure safety to the public, workers and the environment,” it said in a statement Friday. “Safety requirements must be met in accordance with CNSC and Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.

These containers must undergo stringent testing, which simulate both normal and hypothetical conditions of transport, including free-drop testing, puncture testing and thermal testing.

Carriers must be specially trained and a transportation security plan must also be approved, it said.

The primary purpose of this plan is to assure that the nuclear material to be transported will receive adequate physical protection against any threats that may arise during its transport.

AECL is generally tight-lipped about FISST. A spokesman Friday would only say that “AECL is participating in HEU repatriation activities.

NAC International, in filings with the NRC, proposes to that each cask carry a total of up to 257 litres of HEU solution. Each cask would hold four smaller containers, with each of those holding up to 64 litres. The estimated HEU content in each would be about 1.8 grams.
At Savannah River, the liquid is to be taken to a complex known as H-Canyon and down-blended in to low-enriched uranium fuel for U.S. power and research reactors. Source


Action Alert   February 4, 2013

Please write to U.S. and Canadian Authorities

Proposed Import and Transport of Liquid Radioactive Wastes

Bearing Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to the U.S. from Canada

The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) is planning to import and transport liquid radioactive waste containing weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories (CRNL) to the DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

The proposed movement of liquid HEU-bearing radioactive waste was confirmed at the recent SRS (Savannah River Site) Citizens Advisory Board meeting in Augusta, Georgia on January 28-29. This proposal is (so far as we are aware) the first of it’s kind.

We are asking citizens and elected officials to send an urgent request to the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s SRS NEPA officer, Drew Grainger, who can be emailed at:drew.grainger@srs.gov
(NEPA is the U.S. National Environmental Protection Act.)

Tell DOE that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) must be done on the proposed import to the U.S.A. of HEU-bearing liquid radioactive waste from Canada’s Chalk River.  (See Tom Clements’ letter, below, as a sample of concerns to be raised.)

No SEIS has yet been done. Such an SEIS is absolutely necessary so that an informed public policy discussion can occur.

Also, please write to the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, the Honourable Joe Oliver asking him to ensure that a full Environmental Assessment is conducted under Canadian Law, with an independent panel and public hearings E-mail him at joe.oliver@parl.gc.ca

Please cc to ccnr@web.ca so we can keep monitoring this situation.

For background information : http://ccnr.org/HEU_liquid_waste.html .

SRS is where 35 MT of weapons-grade plutonium was made.  SRS still processes tritium for all US nuclear weapons and is where a $7- billion plutonium-based nuclear fuel (MOX, or “mixed oxide” nuclear fuel) plant is being built.

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