The first ever double-shell tank to have leaked at Hanford may be in far worse condition than anyone imagined. Hanford workers conducting routine maintenance on the tank Thursday were shocked to find readings of radioactivity from material outside the tank. Until now leaked nuclear sludge had only been detected in what’s known as the tank’s annulus – the hollow safety space between the tank’s two walls.
The tank, known as AY-102, has been at the center of a KING 5 investigation for months. The underground carbon steel vessel holds 865,000 gallons of the most chemically contaminated, thermally hot, corrosive and radioactive material at the site.
The U.S. Department of Energy, in a unique move, issued an email late Thursday night about the turn of events.
“On Thursday, June 20, 2013, workers detected an increased level of contamination during a routine removal of water and survey of (AY-102′s) leak detection pit…The source of contamination is not yet verified, but may be an indication of a leak from the AY-102 tank’s secondary containment,” wrote Lori Gamache, spokesperson for the DOE’s Office of River Protection (ORP) in Richland.
The leak detection pit is located underneath the massive tank and has contact with the soil.
The KING 5 Investigators, in a multi-part investigation, “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets” exposed that the federal government’s contractor in charge of all 177 underground storage tanks at the site, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), failed to investigate scientific evidence of the leak for nearly a year before conducting a thorough inspection in August 2012. Despite signs of the leak and advice from veteran employees that the tank was compromised and leaking nuclear by-products in 2011, WRPS and the DOE made the leak public in October 2012. In addition, KING 5 revealed WRPS wasted millions of tax dollars on the tank during the months signs of the leak were discounted by managers. Instead of confronting evidence that the tank was broken, WRPS forged ahead with engineering, design, and equipment procurement work to upgrade the tank to eventually be a waste feed delivery source to the site’s Waste Treatment Plant. Now that work is useless because of the tank’s condition.
Photos of the leaked toxic sludge obtained by KING 5 on Thursday showed an increase of bright green, wet leaked material from what had been documented by workers the week before.
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