Wash. sues feds over Hanford nuclear site cleanup

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RICHLAND, Wash. — Washington state is suing the federal government to seek a faster cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, after nearly 18 months of negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

“In Washington state, we have been patient. In Washington state, we have been reasonable. And today, our patience has simply run out,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday. “They were steadfast on putting us in a legal position that is not good for the people of this community.”

Gregoire said she was willing to accept deadlines proposed by the Energy Department, which manages the cleanup. But the Justice Department refused to make those deadlines enforceable in court, she said, leaving the state no choice but to sue in U.S. District Court.



Cleanup extension asked for Hanford

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“RICHLAND — Federal officials are asking for more time to finish cleaning up the central part of the Hanford nuclear reservation, saying the federal budget requires that cleanup work first must be done along the Columbia River.

A letter requesting extensions on 23 cleanup deadlines was sent Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Energy to the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Ecology, the Tri-City Herald reported.”

Hanford is the nation’s most-contaminated nuclear site, a legacy of producing fuel for atomic bombs dating from the 1940s. Cleanup deadlines are part of the Tri-Party Agreement between the three agencies.


Hanford mystery cylinders to be tapped

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“Two mystery cylinders found in a Hanford burial ground will be opened Saturday in the center of the nuclear reservation when few workers are on duty as a safety precaution.

One of the compressed gas cylinders may hold a poisonous gas that was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. And both cylinders are suspected of containing highly corrosive chemicals.”


DOE cleanup chief Quits- Hanford

Jim Rispoli decied to call it quits in Hanford today.

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“Jim Rispoli, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for environmental management, told colleagues today that he’s resigning effective Nov. 20.

As assistant secretary, he heads DOE programs for cleanup at Hanford and other nuclear weapon sites.”


HANFORD: Litigation still possible to enforce cleanup

HANFORD: Litigation still possible to enforce cleanup

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The state of Washington will go to court to enforce Hanford cleanup requirements only if it’s a better way to serve the state’s interests than any agreement it can negotiate with the federal government.

That’s what state Attorney General Rob McKenna told the Tri-City Development Council and the Hanford Communities in a reply to their letter of concern over the renegotiation of the Tri-Party Agreement.

The two agencies told the state and the Department of Energy earlier this month that if negotiations over the Tri-Party Agreement fail, Hanford cleanup and the economy of the Tri-City area will suffer.

The state is expected to take legal action if the agreement, which sets legally binding deadlines for cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, cannot be renegotiated.

DOE is behind schedule on major cleanup projects with no hope of meeting deadlines on them.

“I would prefer that these negotiations conclude with a binding agreement that puts Hanford cleanup back on track,” McKenna wrote. “… However, we cannot settle a potential lawsuit at any cost.”

Any negotiation agreement “must be strong and enforceable and minimize the chances of any future similar delays in the DOE’s work,” he wrote.

Hanford begins waste retrieval

Hanford begins waste retrieval
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

HANFORD — Hanford workers began retrieving radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from Tank C-110 this week.

They’re hoping it marks the first sustained effort to retrieve solid waste from leak-prone underground tanks since late July 2007 when a spill of waste stopped operations.

It also ends CH2M Hill Hanford Group’s efforts at the tank farms on a positive note. New contractor Washington River Protection Solutions takes over operations of Hanford’s tank farms Oct. 1 under a $7.1 billion contract.

CH2M Hill has completed removing waste from seven Hanford tanks and has done some work to retrieve solid wastes from four more, including Tank C-110. It also removed pumpable liquid from all 149 of Hanford’s leak-prone single shell tanks.

Waste left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons programs is being pumped from single-shell tanks into 28 sturdier double shell tanks to await treatment and disposal.

“Removing the waste from these single shell tanks is a priority for (the Department of Energy), a necessary step to protect the nearby Columbia River and prepare for future operations at Hanford’s vitrification plant,” said Stacy Charboneau, DOE assistant manager for tank farms, in a statement. The vitrification plant will turn much of the tank waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

The past year has been difficult for CH2M Hill after a spill in July 2007 stopped waste retrieval until early this summer.

Then retrieval resumed on Tank C-109, but had to stop after several weeks because of a mechanical problem with a promising new type of robot.

However, CH2M Hill Hanford Group believes it can use proven technology to retrieve waste from Tank C-110.

While Tank C-109 had a hard heel of waste left in its bottom that was difficult to break up, Tank C-110 has sludge in its bottom that should be less difficult to maneuver and pump out.

It is using modified sluicing, a technology that uses a nozzle to spray the waste inside the enclosed, underground tank with liquid to break it up and move it toward a pump for removal from the tank.

The tank, built in 1946, has 177,000 gallons of sludge and other waste materials at its bottom. Earlier, pumpable liquids were removed from the 530,000-gallon tank.

It is on the list of tanks suspected of having leaked in the past, and modified sluicing typically isn’t the preferred option for those tanks because it adds more liquid to the tank. But at Tank C-110 there are doubts that it really has leaked in the past, and if it did, the leak likely occurred in a portion of the tank above the current waste level.

Rather than using clean water for the sluicing, liquid waste will be used as a spray to reduce the amount of new waste produced in the retrieval operation.

Workers spent three months preparing to start retrieval of Tank C-110, making improvements based on lessons learned from last year’s spill at Tank S-102.

CH2M Hill has installed improved methods to detect any leaks in the 900-foot transfer line between the single-shell and double-shell tanks. The waste is transferred in a temporary above-ground line that includes a hose encased in another hose.

Five new cameras for remote monitoring have been installed. They’re equipped with a high quality zoom, a pan and tilt system and a high intensity spotlight that can be operated by workers at a safe distance to check for visual evidence of potential leaks.

In addition, radiation monitors have been set up at 10 locations along the transfer route. The radiation monitors sound an alarm if abnormal radiation levels are detected, limiting the need for workers to enter areas regularly that could pose a risk.

“Everything we do is focused on worker safety and protection of the environment and this job is no exception,” said Ryan Dodd, CH2M Hill vice president for retrieval and closure operations, in a statement.

Researchers tackle uranium pollution mystery at Hanford

Researchers tackle uranium pollution

mystery at Hanford

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

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Scientists at Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory believe a research project using 35 newly drilled wells will
help explain the baffling behavior of uranium contamination at Hanford.

decade ago, Hanford officials believed uranium contamination at the
nuclear reservation just north of Richland along the Columbia River was
a problem that time would solve.

After the most contaminated soil
was dug up and hauled to a landfill for low-level radioactive waste in
central Hanford, they expected the uranium-contaminated ground water
below it to naturally dissipate.

Instead, levels of contamination remain at up to three times the drinking water standard in the ground water.

plume here has been far more persistent than expected,” said John
Zachara, PNNL chief scientist who is leading a team of experts in
underground geochemistry, hydrology and microbiology on the research

They’re hoping that with the array of new wells equipped
with sophisticated monitoring devices they will be able to get to the
bottom of the mystery of how uranium behaves deep underground.

“We’re looking at some very aggressive technology,” said Mike Thompson, Department of Energy hydrogeologist.

the $13 million research project, scientists believe they will learn
more about how, where and when uranium binds to the soil, moves with
the ground water, then binds with the soil again, with some of it
eventually reaching the Columbia River.

Among the key issues are
the daily and seasonal fluctuations in the level of the Columbia River,
creating what Thompson describes as a washing-machine action in the
uranium contamination.

Scientists want to know more about how
the different chemistry of the river water and ground water from
various sources affects the uranium contamination, how the ground water
moves and how thin layers of sediment in the soil bind and release the

“Sites like these are complicated scientifically and the action is below ground where you can’t look at it,” Zachara said.

World War II and the Cold War when plutonium was made at Hanford for
the nation’s nuclear weapons program, the 300 Area just north of
Richland was used to make uranium into fuel for reactors. As a
byproduct of the process, 60 tons of dissolved uranium was released
into the ground in disposal ponds and trenches in the 300 Area.

vast majority of uranium contamination was in the top 15 feet of soil,
which has been dug up, Thompson said. But the lighter contamination
deeper in the soil appears to be acting as a persistent and long-term
source to keep recontaminating the ground water near the Columbia River.

summer the national lab research project began with the drilling of 35
wells 60 feet deep that form a triangle centered on the location of the
first disposal pond used for the release of uranium-contaminated water.
Each side of the triangular array of wells is about 65 yards long.

equipped with sensors that can detect temperature and measure
electrical resistivity. That allows an in-depth look at information
such as the consistency of underground soil and the underground
movement of water from different sources — rain, ground water and
river water.

The first use of the wells calls for injecting
tracers of salt and varying temperatures into the ground to follow
their movement.

Later tests are proposed to include reinjecting
contaminated ground water from the uranium plume to observe the
behavior of the uranium.

DOE’s goal is to understand enough about
the properties of the 96 acres of ground water contaminated with
uranium at the 300 Area to find ways to restore it to drinking water

Although the uranium enters the river just upstream from
the Richland city water uptake, the river almost immediately dilutes
the contamination to easily meet standards for drinking water.

research project is planned to be completed in five years. It’s being
paid for with a competitive grant the national lab won in DOE’s
Field-Scale Subsurface Research Challenge.