A leak in a massive nuclear waste storage tank at the Hanford Site has expanded significantly, KING 5 learned this weekend.But not anymore:
After leak detector alarms sounded early Sunday morning, crews at Hanford lowered a camera into the two-foot-wide space between the tank's inner and outer walls. They discovered 8.4 inches of radioactive and chemically toxic waste sitting in a spot it was never intended to be.
“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.
Geffre is the worker who first discovered that the tank, known as AY-102, was failing in 2011. In a 2013 series, “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets," the KING 5 Investigators exposed that the government contractor in charge of the tanks, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), ignored Geffre’s findings for nearly a year. The company finally admitted the problem in 2012.
Until now, the leak found by Geffre was very slow. The liquid would almost immediately dry up, leaving a salt-like substance on the floor of the two-foot space between the tank's walls, called the annulus.
The new leak poses problems on several fronts. The outer shell of AY-102 does not have the exhaust or filtration system needed to keep the dangerous gases created by the waste in check. Workers have been ordered to wear full respiratory safety gear in the area, but the risk remains.The leaking waste, by the way, is the result of forty years of plutonium production by the US government.
“The hazards to workers just went up by a factor of 10,” said Geffre.
In addition, the breakdown calls into question the viability of three other double-shell tanks at Hanford that have the exact design of AY-102.
“The primary tanks weren't designed to stage waste like this for so many years,” said a current worker. “There’s always the question, ‘Are the outer shells compromised’”?
(Update) : Not to worry. The Washington state Department of Ecology assures its residents that there is no danger to the public.