A mound of dirt and some pressure-treated timbers is a “surprising” way to conceal radioactive waste, according to Rod Ewing, a nuclear security researcher at Stanford University.
But that’s how some irradiated equipment is stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the sprawling compound near Richland that created weapons-grade plutonium during World War II and now stores the most nuclear waste of any facility in the country.
“How can waste be left in a tunnel? Whose idea was that?” Ewing said, two days after Tuesday’s collapse of an earthen tunnel where radioactive waste material was stored. “I’ve been to Hanford many, many times for conferences and things like that, and I don’t recall anyone saying that there was waste in tunnels underground. I can’t imagine why that would be the case.”
Officially called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the dump in the Carlsbad desert is the nation’s only permanent repository for defense waste. In 2014, it was the site of an explosion that sent mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and stalled the disposal of thousands of tons of waste in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the explosion “involved a drum of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum.”
The Times reported that the explosion caused extensive damage to the dump and could cost taxpayers up to $2 billion. A federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the site.
Read more at Nuclear waste disposal still a dilemma