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Just under two weeks since the emergency at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state (following a tunnel collapse), NBC’s local affiliate King5 reports Hanford’s owner, The U.S. Department of Energy, is scrambling to deal with a second emergency – signs have emerged that a massive underground double shell nuclear waste holding tank may be leaking.
The tank is known as AZ 101 and was put into service in 1976. The tank’s life was expected to be 20 years. Now it has been holding hot, boiling radioactive and chemically contaminated waste for 41 years.
Update 2: An aerial survey midmorning Tuesday showed an opening about 20 feet by 20 feet into the tunnel, which had been covered with about eight feet of soil. As Tri-CityHerald.com reports , the breach could expose the highly radioactive material disposed of in the tunnel to the atmosphere.
No airborne radiation had been detected as of about 10:30 a.m. Radiological surveys were continuing.
Instructions for people to shelter in place were expanded from central Hanford to all of Hanford, including LIGO and the reactor areas along the Columbia River, after the aerial survey. No one is being allowed to enter the site beyond the security barricades.
The State Duma has overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill that suspends a Russian-American deal on reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium extracted from decommissioned warheads.
The bill, submitted on October 3 by the president’s office, was backed by 445 MPs, with one abstention.
The reprocessing deal was ratified in 2000 and involved Russia and the US disposing of excessive plutonium by fabricating nuclear plant fuel from it and transmuting it in a reactor.
The US later decided that the process was too costly and that it would rather mix its plutonium with special dilutants and store it indefinitely.
Moscow sees that as a gross breach of the deal, saying the US could potentially restore the fissile material.
– Expert: Billions of pieces Fukushima nuclear fuel have spread pretty much everywhere — “It’s truly frightening… wherever there’s cesium, there’s plutonium” — Atomic bomb had one pound of uranium… Fukushima had hundreds of tons — TV: “Abundant quantities” of plutonium are being found (VIDEO)
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The US Environmental Protection Agency chalked elevated gamma radiation levels around America’s largest nuclear waste storage facility, the Hanford site, up to natural causes, but RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky has found a few inconsistences in its claims.
RT has reported extensively on the situation at Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear storage facility since various leaks and injuries to workers were reported. An incident on May 5th covered by RT, when radiation levels in the area adjacent to the site skyrocketed, prompted a federal investigation.
However, following the RT report, a local newspaper urged its audience not to “believe everything on the Internet” in an article extensively quoting a statement from the EPA that claimed the elevated radiation levels had a natural cause and were not connected to the Hanford facility in any way.
SPOKANE, Washington — Officials for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are trying to determine if a second giant underground tank containing radioactive waste from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons is leaking, the U.S. Department of Energy revealed on Tuesday.
Air monitors attached to an aging tank known as AY-101 recently found radiation at higher than normal background levels, the agency said.
Thousands of gallons of radioactive waste leaked from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation Site in Washington State, as workers pumped sludge from the tank during the weekend. “This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors (to hold waste safely from people and the environment),” said former Hanford worker Mike Geffre.
The ongoing radioactive leak problems at the Hanford Site, a nuclear storage tank in Washington State, are nothing new.
We first wrote about the ongoing radioative leakage at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, created as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb, in 2013.
As a reminder, during the Cold War, the project was expanded to include nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes, which produced plutonium for most of the 60,000 weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Alas, the site has been leaking ever since, as many of the early safety procedures and waste disposal practices were inadequate and Hanford’s operations released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the neighboring Columbia River.
Tri-City Herald, Feb 21, 2016 (emphasis added): The Environmental Protection Agency has called the uncontrolled spread of small amounts of radioactive waste at Hanford “alarming” after a Nov. 17 windstorm. Surveys six miles north of Richland after the winds subsided found specks of contamination… The waste came from research and uranium fuel fabrication work… [W]inds were worse than usual… and Hanford officials knew they were going to have issues… “Washington Closure Hanford went out and started surveying to understand how far the contamination had spread,” said Stacy Charboneau, manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office… The waste had high levels of radioactive isotopes that grout does not bind well, said Dennis Faulk, EPA Hanford program manager.
– Washington Post: “No one knows what to do with Fukushima” — Scientific American: Plant is in “crisis mode”… fuel has melted through containers — Official: Corium may never be extracted — Gov’t suggests dumping it under Pacific Ocean:
Washington Post, Feb 10, 2016 (emphasis added): Five years after nuclear meltdown, no one knows what to do with Fukushima… one huge question remains: What is to be done with all the radioactive material?… Tepco has built a 1,500-yard-long “ice wall” around the four reactor buildings… however, Japan’s nuclear watchdog blocked the plan, saying the risk of leakage was still too high… [M]ost problematically, there’s the nuclear fuel from the plant itself… “The biggest challenge is going to be the removal of the nuclear fuel debris,” [Akira Ono, Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi superintendent] said. “We don’t even know what state the debris is in at the moment.”… one of the options the government is considering is building a nuclear waste dump under the seabed, about eight miles off the Fukushima coast… Many groups… staunchly oppose the idea of burying the radioactive material at sea in such a seismically active area. “At some point it would leak and affect the environment,” said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.
– Nuclear Expert in Japan: Plutonium “is everywhere… it is everywhere” after Fukushima reactors exploded — It’s being redeposited in “unanticipated” locations — “Black radioactive dust just wherever you go” — “It’s running right into Pacific Ocean” (VIDEO):
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– The Costa del Armageddon: How the US dropped H-bombs on a beach in Spain… and turned its back on hundreds of British expats who have been caught in the deadly nuclear fall-out zone (Daily Mail, May 10, 2014)
– US to clean up Spanish radioactive site 49 years after plane crash (Guardian, Oct 19, 2015):
Nearly 50 years after a US air force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed in Palomares in south-east Spain, Washington has finally agreed to clean up the radioactive contamination that resulted from the crash.
– ’66 H-bomb accident still a concern in Spain (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov 29, 2003):
PALOMARES, Spain — Almost 40 years have passed since the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped four hydrogen bombs on Spain. But the fallout continues with a newly published scientific study that traced the spread of radiation from the accident site — and continuing rumors about a mysterious fifth bomb that supposedly is still leaking on the Mediterranean Sea floor.
– Spain and U.S. Sign Agreement on Palomares H-Bomb Cleanup (Wall Street Journal, Oct 19, 2015):
Four hydrogen bombs fell on southern Spain in 1966 after a midair collision
Albuquerque Journal, Dec 28, 2015 (emphasis added): A 62-year-old employee was found dead Sunday at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. Robert Staffel, an employee at the nuclear waste repository’s quality assurance department, was found unresponsive by emergency response personnel around 8 p.m. after family members alerted staff that they had tried to reach him by phone, according to a spokesman… Eddy County Sheriff’s Office and state medical examiner responded to the site and an investigation is ongoing. Staffel is believed to have died of natural causes… Phil Breidenbach, NWP president and project manager [said] “We will continue to support the investigation into Mr. Staffel’s death.”
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (pdf), Sept 28, 2015 (emphasis added):
- Ambient Air Radioactive Particulates
- Composite samples were analyzed by alpha spectroscopy for plutonium-239+240, which was detected in 2 out of 206 samples taken in 2014. Detections at the Livermore Site and Livermore off-site locations [in California] for plutonium-239+240 are attributed to a number of factors including the following: resuspension of plutonium-contaminated soil (see Chapter 6); ambient air from historical operations; resuspended fallout from previous atmospheric testing; or fallout from the Fukushima nuclear accident.
- The highest values and percentage of the DCS for the plutonium-239+240 detections were as follows: Livermore Site perimeter: 13.4 nBq/m3 (0.36 aCi/m3)… Livermore off-site locations: 10.4 nBq/m3 (0.28 aCi/m3).
H/t reader M.G.:
“This article related how communities around the world, including Fukushima, find the people to deal with nuclear disasters. Terrifying.”
– BBC: People taken from movie theater by police, forced to go in reactor and deal with burning fuel rods — TV: Military picked men off street to battle meltdown — Women, minorities, homeless, and prisoners used by nuclear industry for most dangerous work (VIDEO) (ENENews, July 4, 2015):
BBC, ‘Windscale – Britain’s Biggest Nuclear Disaster’ (emphasis added) — Tom Tuohy, deputy manager at Windscale plutonium production plant (at 8:00 in): “We were trying to push the burning fuel into the back of the reactor.” — But the heat had melted the cartridges, so they were stuck in the core… Radiation was so intense they could only work a few hours. They were running out of firefighters. — Neville Ramsden, Windscale health physicist: “The police from the [plutonium] factory had turned up looking for volunteers and they brought a bus. They decided the best way to get the volunteers was to go up to the cinema, and ‘volunteer’ the back 2 rows at the show to go… push the fuel rods out of the reactor.”
Yorkshire Television, ‘Children of Chernobyl’ (at 4:00 in): “When the robots broke down because of the extreme radioactivity, men were sent in to cleanup the site. They were not volunteers. They were picked up off the streets and press ganged [i.e. taken by force] onto the roof… In 90 seconds, they received their permissible lifetime dose of radiation. The men were sent home and forgotten… They do not figure in any official casualty lists.”
– Gov’t Analysis: Up to 592 Trillion Bq of Plutonium equivalent involved in disaster at US nuclear dump – Over 5,000 times amount in waste drum blamed for WIPP release — Official: “We thought for sure” there were multiple ruptured drums — “It actually was measured” in city many miles away (VIDEO) (ENENews, May 5, 2015):
DOE Town Hall in Los Alamos on WIPP Leak Findings (mp3), Apr 23, 2015 (emphasis added):
- Question (at 1:43:15 in): So you’ve come up with an amount that you think was in the drum, and you’ve been able to forensically track that. The underground is pretty contaminated at this point, the walls are contaminated, the filters are contaminated — and it actually was measured in Carlsbad 30 miles away. So that’s a significant quantity of plutonium or other isotopes. How is that quantity matching with what is in the drum?
– Gov’t Report: 1,000,000 Bq/m3 of Plutonium was detected in ocean by Fukushima — “Contaminated waters transported rapidly to the east” across Pacific — Fukushima crisis is “the most important direct liquid release of artificial radioactivity into sea ever known” — Scientists: “Remember, its not just cesium isotopes that were released” (ENENews, March 27, 2015):
Comparison between modelling and measurement of marine dispersion, environmental half-time and 137Cs inventories after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, Pascal Bailly du Bois (IRSN), Pierre Garreau (IFREMER), Philippe Laguionie (IRSN), Irène Korsakissok (IRSN), 2014: Contamination of the marine environment following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (FDNPP) represents the most important influx of artificial radioactivity released into the sea ever recorded… The direct liquid releases from FDNPP represent the largest influx of artificial radioactivity into the sea ever occurring over a short period of time on a small spatial scale… Although controlled releases of liquid effluent from the Sellafield reprocessing plant can be compared in terms of total quantities, they have occurred over several years (1970-1980) instead of days, weeks and months as in the case of the FDNPP accident… [W]hatever the detailed current direction at the time of the accident is, water mass fluxes were governed by the generally strong Kuroshio and Oyashio currents that are stable at this scale… Contaminated waters will be transported rapidly to the east… Contamination of the marine environment following the accident at the FDNPP represents the most important direct liquid release of artificial radioactivity into the sea ever known…
– Expert: Plutonium-241 from Fukushima nearly 70,000 times more than atomic bomb fallout in Japan — Gov’t Labs: Large areas of oceans contaminated by plutonium from events such as Fukushima; Build-up in biosphere expected; Considerable hazard to humans — Officials: Molten fuel now ‘particle-like’, contains ‘special’ nuclear materials (ENENews, March 25, 2015):
Taeko Shinonaga, head of Radioanalytical Laboratory at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen (research institution founded jointly by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education & Research and Bavaria’s Finance Ministry), scientists from Technische Universitat Munchen (Germany), Verhandlungen der Deutschen Physikalischen Gesellschaft 2013 meeting (emphasis added): Detection of long-lived plutonium isotopes in environmental samples by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) — Plutonium isotopes 239Pu, 240Pu and 242Pu are anthropogenic radionuclides emitted into the environment by nuclear activities. Pu is accumulated in the human body and hence, poses a considerable hazard to human health. Due to the long half-lives, these isotopes are present in the biosphere on large time scales and a build-up can be expected. Therefore it is important to study the contamination pathway of Pu into the drinking water… a method to detect long-lived Pu isotopes by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) is being developed. AMS requires only few milligrams of sample material… Consequently, more samples from different locations can be taken which is essential when searching for locally increased Pu concentrations as in the Pacific Ocean after the Fukushima accident… Samples from different locations in the Pacific Ocean and from the snow-hydrosphere are planned…