Leaked report cites design flaws in plant built to treat nuclear waste via The Washington Post

A nearly completed government facility intended to treat the radioactive byproducts of nuclear weapons production is riddled with design flaws that could put the entire operation at risk of failure, according to a leaked internal report.

A technical review of the treatment plant on the grounds of the former Hanford nuclear site identified hundreds of “design vulnerabilities” and other weaknesses, some serious enough to lead to spills of radioactive material.

The draft report is the latest in a series of blows to the clean-up effort atHanford, the once-secret government reservation in eastern Washington state where much of the nation’s plutonium stockpile originated. Engineers have struggled for years to come up with a safe method for disposing of Hanford’s millions of gallons of high-level radioactive waste, much of which is stored in leaky underground tanks.

Energy Department officials have spent tens of millions of dollars to design and construct the site’s Low-Activity Waste Facility, intended to convert some of Hanford’s radioactive waste into a glasslike product that could be stored underground in the future. Although the plant is regarded as one of Hanford’s most successful projects, the internal report identified serious flaws in its design.


Hanford Challenge Director Tom Carpenter called the report “alarming,” suggesting a “safety-last culture” at the clean-up site.

“This plant is so riddled with design . . . nuclear safety and worker health threats that it is hard to see how this plant could ever open without very significant and expensive rework,” Carpenter said.

He said the document was released by a Hanford engineer who was afraid to go public for fear of losing his job. Carpenter released a statement in which the unidentified engineer said he had grown frustrated over the government’s failure to release the report.


“[The Energy Department] has proven to be incapable of managing a project of this magnitude and importance,” Alvarez said. “The agency has shown a long-standing intolerance for whistleblowers while conducting faith-based management of its contractors regardless of poor performance. This has bred a culture in which no safety misdeed goes unrewarded.”

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