OLYMPIA, Wash. - Officials at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site are considering a number of options to deal with six leaking waste tanks there, including building a plant that would turn the waste into glass.
Another option is to put covers over the tanks to prevent rainfall from getting in.
Jane Hedges of the Washington state Department of Ecology says two such covers already have been installed at the Hanford nuclear reservation's tank farms and have decreased the amount of moisture getting into the tanks.
She told members of the state Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee on Thursday that state and federal officials are still evaluating their options for controlling the leaks.
“I think the most important thing that we heard today is currently there is no threat to human life and health to the Tri Cities area and throughout Washington state,” said Senator Doug Erickson.
The leaking tanks are between 5 and 8 miles from the Columbia River and hundreds of feet above the water table, so it would take decades for water to become contaminated.
There are 177 tanks at Hanford – 28 of them have double shells, with one tank inside another; 149 of them have single shells.
All of the single-shell tanks have been declared unfit and must be emptied and removed. Six tanks are leaking.
The radioactive material in the tanks is extremely reactive and always changing, so draining them could be dangerous.
The long-term plan to deal with the problem is to build a chemical treatment plant.
“It is an extremely complex facility, probably the most complex chemical facility in the United States, because of the type of waste it has to treat,” said Hedges.
The solution, called vitrification, would turn the radioactive waste into glass, which would then be put into cylinders.
Although the glass would still be radioactive, there would be no risk of it leaking into the ground or water.
The facility will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and the Department of Ecology estimates it won’t be finished until 2019.
Until then, there will be interim solutions such as putting a barrier around the leaking tanks.