Questions linger over piping Hanford's nuclear waste to treatment plant

Aug 30, 2012
Originally published on August 29, 2012 4:47 pm

RICHLAND, Wash. -- This week we heard that yet another top-level government engineer has serious concerns about the design and construction of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste treatment plant. If that wasn’t enough of a headache for the U.S. Department of Energy, there’s more. A new report from the investigative arm of that department is raising concerns about the design and construction of the system that’s intended to carry the waste to the treatment plant.

The Energy Department’s Inspector General says the system that’s intended to get 56 million gallons of radioactive waste to the waste treatment plant when it starts up has “a number of challenges.”

This system is supposed to pump waste underground between the tank farms and the massive $12 billion plant up to several miles away.

One of the key problems for finishing this system is that officials haven’t yet characterized, or defined what the waste will finally look like, or be made up of. This waste is going to be really hard to pump. Think of sucking a sandy milkshake, or sticky ketchup through a long straw.

The waste moves differently and has different requirements if it’s thicker, thinner, more caustic or more acidic. So, knowing what you’re pumping is key.

The report did say that the Department of Energy has assembled a team made up of contractors and Energy experts, to help solve problems with the system. They have less than seven years to do it, if the nuclear waste treatment plant starts up when planned.

On the Web:

In-depth coverage of piping nuclear waste at Hanford:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135750718

OIG report on the piping system:

http://energy.gov/node/386323

Waste Treatment & Immobilization Plant Project:

http://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/WTP

Waste treatment fact sheets:

http://www.hanfordvitplant.com/newsroom/fact_sheets/

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