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Radioactivity Cleanup At Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 25 Years On 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-scrubbing dept.
Rambo Tribble (1273454) writes "The cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington was supposed to be entering its final stages by now. The reality is far from that. The cleanup was to be managed under the 'Tri-Party Agreement', signed on May 15, 1989, which was supposed to facilitate cooperation between the agencies involved. Today, underfunded and overwhelmed by technical problems, the effort is decades behind schedule. Adding to the frustrations for stakeholders and watchdogs is a bureaucratic slipperiness on the part of the Federal Department of Energy. As one watchdog put it, 'We are constantly frustrated by how easily the Department of Energy slips out of agreements in the Tri-Party Agreement.'"
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Radioactivity Cleanup At Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 25 Years On

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  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:24PM (#47034195) Homepage

    This seems fairly typical of what happens, and not just with nuclear. Lots of industrial sites need expensive clean-up when they are decommissioned and of course no-one wants to pay for it because it isn't making any more money at that point. Contractors doing the clean-up want to milk it, and often we find that things turned out worse than expected and there are new technical problems that arose because we came to understand the science better in the years since the facility was built. Sometimes the original designers were just overly optimistic or cheap.

    Then the blame game starts, and nothing gets cleaned up. Happens over and over.

    Prediction: The rest of the discussion will be nuke fans lamenting the lack of proper storage facilities and breeder reactors, without proposing any practical solutions. In other words, more blame, mostly aimed at environmentalists even though this is primarily a financial and regulatory problem.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:41PM (#47034295)

      Prediction: The rest of the discussion will be nuke fans lamenting the lack of proper storage facilities and breeder reactors, without proposing any practical solutions. In other words, more blame, mostly aimed at environmentalists even though this is primarily a financial and regulatory problem.

      Disclaimer: Pro-nuke. But no, not from me.

      The problem is precisely what you said - financial and regulatory, and it's not nuclear-specific. From TFA: "The Department of Energy has too long and deep a track record of failure," he said. The work could be turned over to the Environmental Protection Agency, or the government could create a new agency to do the job, Carpenter suggested."

      At which point I fucking lost my sanity.

      Nobody is interested in fixing it, not even the environmental guy. The longer it goes unfixed, the more the DoE contractors can extract from DoE through the revolving door. If it gets turned over to EPA, look for three years and at least one election season before the budget to hire the contractors to do the studies for EPA can even be drafted, let alone completed, and if we take Carpenter's "solution" at face value - the creation of Yet Another Government Agency to do what the first two haven't been able to do for decades - we're talking about doubling that time (and political risk because the momentum for the agency is going to be a function of how many elections there are between now and the agency's creation) again.

      tl;dr: Bureaucracy multiplies itself, and once it's hit critical mass, nothing will ever get done about anything, because there are more dollars released in bouncing contracts and contractors through the revolving door, than there are dollars released by actually completing the cleanup and shutting down the site in an environmentally sound fashion. We're well past critical mass on this project, which means it'll never get fixed no matter whose side of the aisle you're on in terms of R-vs-D-vs-EPA-vs-DOE-vs-private-vs-public-vs-nuke-vs-solar-vs-fossil.

      • by hey! (33014)

        To do be fair, if somebody dumped the problem in *your* regulatory lap, the intelligent thing to do would be to commission studies.

        It's not the EPA's fault that the funding situation is chaotic. The system is designed to make spending money complicated; the original intent might have even been to make spending money *hard*, of course complexity only makes it easier to spend money on stupid things. Something like nuclear cleanup needs stable, multi-year funding, not something that get put through the bel

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sounds like you guys need a little bit of socialism.

        Posting AC because I used the s-word.

        • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @08:52PM (#47035261)

          Posting Non-AC 'cause I don't fear being S-worded.

          It's odd how words are perceived differently in different parts of the world. The word "socialist" is by no means an insult in most parts of Europe. Hell, more than one country has parties in power that have "socialist" somewhere in their name. Not that it matters too much these days anymore.

          OTOH, you might want to watch out who you call "Republican" around some parts. The Republicans [wikipedia.org] are a German right-wing party with little, if any, political impact.

          So, in general, if you feel like calling me a socialist, be my guest. But don't you DARE calling me a Republican!

          • I'm a republican.

            Of course I should point out I'm a brit living in France, so I'm a republican in the sense that I want to get rid of the British Monarchy, and I detest the (admittedly rare) crazies who want to bring monarchy back in France.

            (In fact, in order to explode a few American heads - I'm a republican socialist!)

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              (In fact, in order to explode a few American heads - I'm a republican socialist!)

              Like it.

              I may try using that one over lunch, if one of the Louisiana rednecks happens to be at the table. Of course, the Nigerians, Arabs, Philippenos, Brits and Norwegians will hardly notice, if at all. Unless the head really does explode, in which case I'll have a lot of paperwork to do over the fatality enquiry.

      • Nobody is interested in fixing it, not even the environmental guy.

        However, there are millions of people downstream of Hanford who are seriously interested in having the site cleaned up, and politicians who are terrified that at some point the feds will punt and it will all fall to Washington and Oregon to deal with. The lack of trust is understandable; the DOE asserts that it has cleaned up the much smaller Rocky Flats site upwind from Denver, but refuses to allow Colorado to have any independent testin
      • If it gets turned over to EPA, look for three years and at least one election season before the budget to hire the contractors to do the studies for EPA can even be drafted, let alone completed, and if we take Carpenter's "solution" at face value - the creation of Yet Another Government Agency to do what the first two haven't been able to do for decades - we're talking about doubling that time (and political risk because the momentum for the agency is going to be a function of how many elections there are between now and the agency's creation) again.

        Don't be ridiculous. In many ways the EPA is as bad as the DoE, or even worse.

        If they were put in charge, they'd probably turn the entire Hanford region, including Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, and a long stretch of the Columbia River into a giant Superfund site, and then try to regulate everything in it from curfews to toothpaste.

        EPA is not your friend. It hasn't been for decades. It is a giant bureaucracy that seeks little more than to increase its own size and budget, and believe me because I've seen

        • by geekoid (135745)

          I like how you continuously make shit up out of whole cloth to try and get people to support your bias and think you personal narrative has any meaning what so ever.

          Sorry, I'm to familiar with people. a the EPA. How they get more responsibility, but not an increase in budget to meet the new responsibility. Then the people that don't give them the money to do what they ask(pubs) go to the media and whine the EPA doesn't work.

          You are basically the bitch of the pub controlled media, falling for the typical pub

          • I like how you continuously make shit up out of whole cloth to try and get people to support your bias and think you personal narrative has any meaning what so ever.

            Sorry to disabuse you, but your anecdotes do not constitute proof, and your insults hardly work in your favor. What gives you the idea that sociopathic behavior makes for convincing arguments? I'm just curious.

            I acknowledge that your anecdotes may be true. But you don't even know mine, so you are hardly in a place to be calling bullshit.

            I have had experience with the EPA going back to the early 90s, and actually a bit beyond. Both the employees as individuals, and the organization and their regulatory

          • "pub controlled media" - That's a laugher.

            Obama, Democrats got 88 percent of 2008 contributions by TV network execs, writers, reporters [washingtonexaminer.com]
            There was also an article from the American Society of Newspaper Editors stating 61% of reporters self-proclaim as democrats, while only 15% said their beliefs were represented by the republican party, but the source has gone 404.

            Perhaps you're just referring to Fox News (clearly a right-wing mouthpiece who laughably claims "balance") or the Wall Street Journal (at least sti

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Bullshit.
        Get rid of the private contractors. They ahve been fucking the clean up, and becasue the media loves to stir up shit about the goverment, it always bounces back to a government agency.

        The contractor should be removed, and sued into nonexistence.
        We SHOULD create a new agency SPECIFICALLY for nuclear clean up. Hell, all nuclear power should be removed from private contractors and be government run. The solves nearly all the money issue. The agency set to build and run the plants should be an agency o

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Exponential costs tend to be that way. Yay for the nuclear future!

    • Prediction: The rest of the discussion will be nuke fans lamenting the lack of proper storage facilities and breeder reactors, without proposing any practical solutions.

      Bad prediction. Some proponents of moving off of fossil fuels include nuclear along with renewables and point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel, and the waste from 4th gen only remains hazardous for a few centuries rather than tens of thousands of years. So there, a practical solution to getting rid of current waste. Practical as in 4th gen test reactors are up and running.

      There we have it, a forward looking plan for a solution. Not a backward looki

      • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @09:31PM (#47035395)

        and point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel

        Yes they can use some waste material as fuel, in fact some of the most difficult stuff to store. Unfortunately utter idiots have been pretending that they can consume all waste by magic and those utter idiots have set back the cause they are trying to promote. You appear to have fallen victim to such an idiot.
        So when you "point out" something it's best not to oversimplify it to the point of telling three year olds bedtime stories with magic. It's not "a practical solution to getting rid of current waste" - it's a recycling option that reduces the amount of waste. It's starting out with magic expressed as fact that makes discussions about civilian nuclear power quite juvenile, especially since someone who considers practicalities instead of believing in magic is instantly considered to be an opponent of civilian nuclear power (eg. nuclear waste storage technique researchers and even the people on the Clinton era Thorium project becuase they dared to say it was more safe than current technologies - daring to imply that current reactors were not perfect resulted in a shutdown of the program).

        • The real issue is jobs. Without more sites to clean up, these guys are out of a job. So of course the stuff drags on and on. For a career, for a lifetime. All they gotta do is set their geiger counters to detect cosmic radiation, and there you go, more beeps means more digging. All they know how to do is make a geiger counter beep and dig some earth with an excavator. They are not gonna take some burger flipping job next to a teenie weenie for minimum wage or a factory production line for minimum wage when
          • by dbIII (701233)

            Without more sites to clean up, these guys are out of a job

            There's plenty of potential work of that type out there but not the will to fund it.

            If you can't find them nuclear mines, use them at other regular mines

            Spot on. There are plenty of mine sites one flood away from making the fish downstream unfit for human consumption for years.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          and point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel

          Yes they can use some waste material as fuel, in fact some of the most difficult stuff to store. Unfortunately utter idiots have been pretending that they can consume all waste by magic and those utter idiots have set back the cause they are trying to promote. You appear to have fallen victim to such an idiot.

          No, you merely mischaracterize what I have written by deleting relevant portions. I'll highlight the relevant portion you deleted:
          "point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel, and the waste from 4th gen only remains hazardous for a few centuries rather than tens of thousands of years."

          By the way, one source of info for the above: the people who have been building reactors for decades. I'm sure I can find others put this was one of the first things that

          • by dbIII (701233)
            OK - I missed that.

            By the way, one source of info for the above: the people who have been building reactors for decades

            You have no need to "educate" me. I saw Synroc in 1986 and I've worked with a couple of materials scientists from a research reactor.

      • by michael_cain (66650) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @10:05PM (#47035513) Journal
        ...point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel...

        Unfortunately, much of the waste at Hanford is not in a form that can be easily converted to usable fuel for anything. Think millions of gallons of seriously nasty chemical toxins, that just happen to also have a batch radioactive isotopes dissolved in it. The clean-up plan calls for a one-of-a-kind chemical plant to handle separation and break-down of the stuff. Much of the delay can be attributed to problems with the design of said plant; a lot of experts assert that it simply won't work.
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Yes, building that plant to separate the radioactive elements from the rest of the toxic waste is a huge problem. The radioactives are so nasty that once the plant starts running it will be impossible for a human to safely enter it for thousands of years. They have to design and build it so maintenance and repair can be done remotely. Just thinking about that stuff which is about 200 miles from where I live gives me the willies. It's mostly leftovers from the production of plutonium in the 1940's and 19

      • Bad prediction. Some proponents of moving off of fossil fuels include nuclear along with renewables and point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel, and the waste from 4th gen only remains hazardous for a few centuries rather than tens of thousands of years. So there, a practical solution to getting rid of current waste. Practical as in 4th gen test reactors are up and running.

        We clearly have different definitions of "practical". So far no-one has built a working commercial scale breeder reactor, and all of the prototype/research ones have had severe problems.

        That was my point really. Nuke fans make it sound like we just need to hire someone to thrown some some concrete and five years later all our problems will be solved. Even if the technology could be made to work properly you would still need to store the remaining waste for hundreds of years, and the US still doesn't have a plan to do even that.

        My prediction was spot on.

        • by perpenso (1613749)

          Prediction: The rest of the discussion will be nuke fans lamenting the lack of proper storage facilities and breeder reactors, without proposing any practical solutions.

          Bad prediction. Some proponents of moving off of fossil fuels include nuclear along with renewables and point out that 4th gen nuclear reactors will consume the waste of previous gen reactors as fuel, and the waste from 4th gen only remains hazardous for a few centuries rather than tens of thousands of years. So there, a practical solution to getting rid of current waste. Practical as in 4th gen test reactors are up and running.

          We clearly have different definitions of "practical". So far no-one has built a working commercial scale breeder reactor, and all of the prototype/research ones have had severe problems. That was my point really.

          No, it was not. You have moved the goal post. Originally you claimed that no one would propose solutions for moving forward. Well, one has been proposed, and it is currently being researched and worked upon. Now you complain that we are at the start of the research rather than near then end. That is a quite different point.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            The research has been going on for decades, the problem is that the cost of developing it into a working commercial scale reactor is too great and will take took long. Tens of billions of dollars and a decade minimum. Even then it might not work. Doesn't make economic sense, will never be funded, not a practical solution.

            That's not moving the goal posts, that is reality. Your argument is basically a straw man, because you are choosing an easier target. Practical means something we can actually do now.

            • by perpenso (1613749)

              The research has been going on for decades, the problem is that the cost of developing it into a working commercial scale reactor is too great and will take took long. Tens of billions of dollars and a decade minimum.

              4th gen reactors are relatively new. Not long into the test reactor phase. Its 3rd generations that has only recently moved into the commercial construction phase. I'd expect more like 20-30 years before 4th gen is ready for commercial operation. Even so, the ability to recycle existing waste is a huge offset and a huge win. Managing that waste has an incredible cost.

              Even then it might not work. Doesn't make economic sense, will never be funded, not a practical solution.

              If there are funding problems the cuts will be political in nature, not based in economics. As was done in the 90s under Clinton.

              That's not moving the goal posts, that is reality. Your argument is basically a straw man, because you are choosing an easier target. Practical means something we can actually do now.

              Your predicti

              • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                I'd expect more like 20-30 years before 4th gen is ready for commercial operation.

                So we are back to practical again. What investor is going to put money into something that will be ready in 20-30 years, by which time the market will have changed and some countries, like Germany, will have ditched nuclear altogether?

                If there are funding problems the cuts will be political in nature, not based in economics.

                I think you are mistaking funding for subsidy.

                • by perpenso (1613749)

                  I'd expect more like 20-30 years before 4th gen is ready for commercial operation.

                  So we are back to practical again. What investor is going to put money into something that will be ready in 20-30 years, by which time the market will have changed and some countries, like Germany, will have ditched nuclear altogether?

                  Germany made that move for political reasons, the coal industry controls many politicians. The old lignite burning coal plant are "paid for" so they are incredibly cheap to operate and the external costs of lignite use is not charged to the companies. Despite this, Germany has some of the highest electricity costs in Europe. France, which is 75% nuclear, has some of the lowest.

                  Regarding who is investing: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, European Union, France, Japan, South Korea, Russia, South Africa,

                  • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                    If the coal industry paid for it then it has hilariously backfired on them. During the summer they often end up paying to generate electricity because renewables are bringing in so much.

                    • by perpenso (1613749)

                      If the coal industry paid for it then it has hilariously backfired on them. During the summer they often end up paying to generate electricity because renewables are bringing in so much.

                      The dirty little secret of renewables is that some fossil fuel companies are often thrilled when a renewables plant is built. In parallel backup generation is often built, in the US it is usually natural gas based and in Germany it is usually coal based. In Jan-Mar 2014 renewables generated only 27% of Germany's electricity, in all of 2013 it was 25%. Don't let momentary blips of 74% confuse you. Coal is still laughing all the way to the bank.

                • What investors?

                  The collective shareholders of:
                  General Atomics
                  General Electric
                  Westinghouse
                  Areva

                  and other companies in nuclear engineering.

            • Here is a better take on reality. A 4th gen reactor group that the US Dept of Energy helped start.

              VHTR: The very-high-temperature reactor is a further step in the evolutionary development of high-temperature reactors. The VHTR is a helium-gas-cooled, graphite-moderated, thermal neutron spectrum reactor with a core outlet temperature higher than 900 C, and a goal of 1 000 C, sufficient to support high temperature processes such as production of hydrogen by thermo-chemical processes. The reference thermal
        • by afidel (530433)

          We clearly have different definitions of "practical". So far no-one has built a working commercial scale breeder reactor

          ahem [wikipedia.org], there was also the 1,200 MWe unit in France, though it had horrible load availability.

          • by OneAhead (1495535)
            Yeah, the problem with breeders is more fear of proliferation (rational or not) than technical feasibility.
      • Completely naive question here - civilised answers welcomed.

        I've heard that the new generation reactors will be able to use 'old waste' for fuel. Does this include all sort of waste, or only some of it? For example, I believe that "nuclear waste" doesn't just mean Homer Simpson like glowing green spent fuel rods, but lots of things that have to get packaged up and safely disposed of like technicians' work wear, equipment, anything that comes into contact with radioactive sources. Am I right that this is als

        • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Monday May 19, 2014 @07:17AM (#47037163) Journal

          Does this include all sort of waste, or only some of it

          Only some of it. Just spent fuel, not miscelaneous radioactive shit (which, luckily, is moslly "low level").

          Also not the crap that's at Hanford - that shit is seriously fucked up.

          • The waste at Hanford isn't waste from nuclear reactors anyway. It is waste from the process used to extract weapons-grade plutonium for use in making bombs. This http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org] will give an idea of the chemicals involved (note: a lot of them are toxic organic compounds). Although it should be noted, that this process wasn't developed until Hanford had been in operation for some time. Prior to that a different process that generated MUCH more hazardous waste was used. And of course, t
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Most of the low level waste such as technicians work wear and tools are low level wastes and it's sufficient to put them in a landfill set up to receive the low level waste. The really nasty stuff is what develops in the fuel rods of a working reactor and/or the processing to concentrate nuclear ore enough for fuel or bombs. That is what takes extra special handling.

      • Unfortunately, much of the waste at Hanford is not useable for anything other than killing anything that gets close. It is primarily a radioactive soup of transuranics and caustic chemicals used to remove the not-Plutonium from decades of bomb making.

        These aren't spent fuel rods from a commercial reactor - this is liquid or sludge that is left over after running fuel rods through chemical baths to extract plutonium. It is insanely radioactive, and reactive. It's in single-walled tanks that have breached,

    • There is a real mess with a history that goes back to the cold war and years of so called "priorities" that gave them an excuse to just leave dumps, pools, and tanks full of all kinds of bad stuff, including radioactive waste.

      There is cleanup work underway, its been fairly steady since at least the early 90's, but the bureaucracy and mentality of establishment-ism kills momentum and makes everything harder than it has to be. Lots of people getting paid to sit around and "manage", few actually doing the w
      • by Nethead (1563)

        Exactly. There is fuck else to do in the Tri-Cities but farm, and if you don't speak Spanish, you can't get hired for even that. Without the cleanup Richland and Kennewick will look like Pasco. It's not a cleanup, it's a jobs program to keep Doc Hastings in the 4th.

      • Fortunately, we are no longer creating more messes like Hanford, Rocky Flats, etc.

        How do you know? Did the general public know what was going on at hanford when it was active? or did the horrible details only come out later?

        • How do you know? Did the general public know what was going on at hanford when it was active? or did the horrible details only come out later?

          The "cold war" programs that were the greatest contributor to the problems are no longer in place, or have been heavily re-tasked. Where in that past that behavior was routine, today it is criminal. There is a regulatory structure in place now that didn't exist 50 years ago that tightly controls waste just as in the public sector. The major facilities that have capability to produce such waste are generally known, it would be difficult to hide any output.

          One could always imagine that there is some super

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Because it's shut down and the are taking it apart. That's a pretty good clue aren't still aren't doing anything new there.

        • The public did not know when it was part of the Manhattan Project, because it was the most secret thing the US Government could possibly do. After the propaganda machine started up about how mighty the bombs are, and a series of incredibly poor [wikipedia.org] decisions [archive.org] from the people operating Hanford, the public began to know.

      • There is a real mess with a history that goes back to the cold war

        2nd world war, some of this predates the cold war.

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          Yep, Hanford is where the plutonium for the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 was produced.

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "Prediction: The rest of the discussion will be nuke fans lamenting the lack of proper storage facilities ..."

      Anti-Nuke fan here.
      I always lament that nobody will tell us who will pay for guarding the storage facilities for the next 200.000 years.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Properly disposed of and it won't need to be guarded at all.

        We could build power station the burn the waste to create more energy with a serious reduction in half-life. But no, idiots like you who are afraid of science and engineering will raise a stink. I mean, if we reduce the waste so it returns to background radiation level in 200-500 years, what would you whine about? You might actually have to read and learn something! Nothing is more dangerous to your bias and narrative the education.

        • by OneAhead (1495535)

          To be fair, the "won't need to be guarded" only applies to the current relatively low-level waste. In comparison, the "200-500 years" waste you're talking about would be insanely hot (by which I mean radioactive, though it will also produce substantial heat), so would need to be kept in a facility where it can be monitored (as opposed to burying it in a stable geological formation). So the utilities need to put some of their profits aside for bankrolling this kind of storage for several generations (200 yea

        • 200 to 500 years is still a long time. 200 years ago, steam locomotives were a new idea. And 500 years ago in August, King Henry VIII made peace with France.

          That's a hell of a long time for something to be looked after. I'm all for nuclear power and reprocessing of waste to use as fuel, but let's get a bit of perspective.

    • by Ranbot (2648297)

      If there was a way to encourage some private interest in the property things would move things along a little faster. I'm not saying that privatization if the cure to everything, just that when there's no direct economic value in a property, nothing gets done. We have thousands of Brownfield sites across the nation demonstrating this. However, there are also many large abandoned industrial sites that are getting cleaned up and repurposed, because someone is finding something valuable to put there. It even e

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        I guarantee you that no private interest would want to touch the Hanford reservation with a 100 mile pole. They wouldn't want the potential liability. In the early days some of the waste was simply dumped in trenches in the ground.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:26PM (#47034207) Journal
    Why is it that, when faced with especially unpleasant materials, we always seem to end up burying them? That's the strategy that makes it hard to check for leaks, puts them close to groundwater, and makes it quite difficult to do any sort of repairs to the containment without heroic burrowing around, which is difficult and expensive at best, and liable to cause further damage at worst.

    Shouldn't the really dreadful stuff be stored above ground, ideally with the ground floor left open to make detecting leaks a trivial matter? Are underground tanks just that much cheaper, or do we just feel that much better with everything neatly buried and out of sight, out of mind?
    • by gmueckl (950314) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @05:49PM (#47034345)

      Above ground has two disadvantages that come to my mind:

      1. You have to guarantee for the maintenance of the storage facility. Otherwise it will decay and expose the stored material to the outside world. This is a problem in the long term because you have to preserve the technology and knowledge on how to do it as well as keep the personnel around.

      2. Any kind of waste is better protected from any forces on the surface when buried underground. Natural disasters and man-made weapons or tools can destroy anything we can build above ground and expose its content. This is a lot harder when you have hundreds of meters of solid ground to dig through first. Nukes detonated on or above the surface won't do that much damage down there and won't form craters deep enough to release any waste stored down there. And those are the most powerful weapons we currently have.

      • Those are both true, it just seems that (in my admittedly unsystematic sample) underground sites also tend to rot pretty quickly, fast enough that you have to guarantee for maintenance unless you don't care about it leaking actively within 20-50 years, often rather less, and that the construction standards for most underground storage, short of Cheyenne Mountain type stuff, are minimally protective, a few meters of earth at most, open lagoons 'lined' with sheet plastic alarmingly common.

        If you were serio
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Those are both true, it just seems that (in my admittedly unsystematic sample) underground sites also tend to rot pretty quickly

          Indeed. Ever heard about what happens when the 'time capsule' isn't sealed quite right?
          This car [nbcnews.com] wasn't in the greatest shape, and it's one of the better attempts.

          Going underground massively increases expenses and potential troubles.

          A very secure method of storage would be to place the waste in appropriate sealed containers that are designed to not corrode from the contents and provide sufficient shielding to be safe, then place them in a secure holding facility/warehouse. If the warehouse starts leaking a

        • by dbIII (701233)
          Or the other idea is chemical incorporation of the waste (eg. Synroc) so that it doesn't matter if it gets wet, just so long as it doesn't wash away downstream. That stuff is finally seeing some use now after decades of development hindered by the perception that funding waste disposal implied a waste problem so it was seen as politically expedient to pretend waste doesn't exist instead.
      • by symbolset (646467) *
        Water. You know what a pain it is to replace the roof every 50 years? Now imagine you have to keep the rain off for 100,000 years.
    • by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:13PM (#47034475)
      The problem is they were not stored in engineered facilities. There are many kinds of waste they are dealing with, and each type requires different solutions. Had they spent as much time and money engineering the waste facilities as they did on weapons development and related research, there wouldn't be anything near the mess they have now.
      • by Sockatume (732728)

        You have a talent for understatement. A lot of the waste was essentially throw in the ground and covered over, including a safe containing what turns out to be the oldest extant sample of weapons-grade plutonium:

        http://www.newscientist.com/ar... [newscientist.com]

    • There IS a good reason for burying these things in the deep earth.

      Some of the radionucleides' Gammas and Neutrons are good for 10 feet of dirt for 50% absorbtion.

      100 to 1000 feet is where I'd start considering storage, due to shielding. Remember, neutrons will extend the zone of radioactivity over time. :)

      IDK if Yucca mountain is the best possible place to store this stuff, but based on Fukushima, where it is now is much, much worse.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      One of the main advantage to putting the Hanford storage tanks underground is that the ground serves to absorb most of the radioactivity. This waste is so radioactive that it would take massive amounts of shielding to store it safely above ground.

    • Part of the reasoning for burying this crap in storage tanks at Hanford was because they knew the technology for dealing with this shit didn't exist, and wouldn't for some time. This crap is some of the most volatile and deadly shit ever created - it's a sludge / liquid mixture of caustic chemicals and aqueous transuranics that has been pumped around so many times that they don't even know what the mixture is any more. It is literally eating through the steel tanks it's been stored in. The only option fo

  • the Department of Energy slips out of agreements in the Tri-Party Agreement."

    This is why socio-political conservatives don't trust Government to solve problems. Similarly, that same slipperiness is why socio-political liberals don't trust Business.

    I trust my wife, but that's about it...

  • to make a nest there.

  • The Tri-Cities (Richland-Pasco-Kenniwick) area has been dependent on the Hanford project for prosperity forever. There is absolutely no local motivation to complete the cleanup when thousands semi-skilled workers are making $40/hr+ +benefits. The project will certainly be dragged out until every possible drop is drained from the milchcow.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Yet every delay seems to be caused by inadequate funding at the Federal level, to the point where the deadlines have been pushed back beyond the projections for when waste is likely to reach the Columbia River. What's that going to do to the local economy?

      • by Markvs (17298)

        Yet every delay seems to be caused by inadequate funding at the Federal level, to the point where the deadlines have been pushed back beyond the projections for when waste is likely to reach the Columbia River. What's that going to do to the local economy?

        Actually, it improves the potato crop. (FIVE GUYS needs every potato they can lay their hands on!) The waste has also sped up work at the prehistoric Kennewick Man site, and has increased sales of all kinds of abatement gear (and anti-roadrunner technology) from ACME in nearby Walla-Walla.

      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        Inadequate funding is part of it but there is also the difficulty of building a vitrification plant that once it starts processing the waste will be too radioactive for a human to enter regardless of how much shielding they're wearing. All maintenance and repair for the plant will have to be done remotely.

  • by manu0601 (2221348)

    Right, that means nuclear energy has a hidden cost for cleanup. Perhaps we should think again next time we dismiss an alternative as being too costly.

    But there another problem: who makes the gains from operating a nuclear plant, and who pays the hidden cost?

    • If you're really going to be fair about it, you'd need to ask the same question for coal, natural gas, even wind and solar.

      Nuclear is unusual in that like wind&solar, it's mostly direct cost, not indirect cost. The only reason the government is on the hook for Hanford is that it was a government site. Who typically pays decommissioning expenses for a nuclear plant? The owning company. It's part of the reason that the owners don't want to turn them off.

    • Well, the issue here is, the waste we are talking about at Hanford was not generated by nuclear power. It was generated by this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org] process (and older ones that generated more waste of a different type) in order to extract weapons-grade plutonium for use in making bombs. Spent fuel rods from nuclear power are not very difficult to deal with. But Hanford didn't generate spent fuel rods, because it was not a power facility. This waste we are looking at is waste from making bo
    • You do realize that we're talking about nuclear weapons production when we talk about Hanford, right?

      The only waste from commercial power generation at Hanford is the actual reactor vessel from the Trojan Nuclear Generating Station that was barged there and buried [nukeworker.com] when it was decommissioned.

      Largely, spent fuel remains at the generating station that spent it, because Congress is filled with fuckwads that don't know how to actually progress with dealing with it.

  • A Billion dollars a year just to "keep the lights on" at the site? And only one of the four superfund sites there in 1989 has been fully cleaned & removed from the list? Even assuming that there are no more delays or unexpected challenges it is estimated to cost an additional $113 Billion to finish cleanup. Something is definitely wrong here, I realize that dealing with nuclear materials is difficult but this is obscene.

    • by Chas (5144)

      No. Dealing with nuclear materials isn't "difficult".

      It's actually, surprisingly easy. You just have to take the proper precautions and act in an intelligent manner.

      And, right there, you see the root of the issue.

      The main problems are omnipresent greed, laziness, corruption and stupidity.

      • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Monday May 19, 2014 @12:15AM (#47035965)

        No. Dealing with nuclear materials isn't "difficult".

        Dealing with nuclear materials isn't difficult, but you and everybody else in the thread are glossing over the realities at Hanford. It's not just radioactive waste. It's enormous quantities of toxic chemical waste as well, and when you get right down to it, nobody actually knows what's inside a good many of the tanks of sludge they're dealing with. All we know is it's radioactive, chemically toxic, and corrosive to the tank it's sitting in. Records weren't kept of what was dumped where and when. It was appallingly bad management, for decades, and it accumulated a problem far worse than any trivial holding pond at a nuclear reactor site somewhere in the Midwest.

        Hanford actually is a difficult and dangerous problem, all foot-dragging and finger-pointing aside. That is indeed part of the problem. 90% of the bureaucrats involved have no clue even where to begin, and they're so ignorant they don't know who to ask or how to find out.

        The "problem" will end when the sludge finishes eating through the tanks it's in and it all leaks into the ground, contaminating the region's water supply for centuries. There will be a massive relocation program, a HUGE amount of blame-gaming, none of which will actually stick to anybody, and it then it will all go away. The bureaucrats involved have already proven their one skill: having a chair when the music stops.

        • by dkf (304284)

          The bureaucrats involved have already proven their one skill: having a chair when the music stops.

          As long as all the chairs are underneath the eroding tank of toxic radioactive sludge, we'll be OK anyway. Or we'll have a legion of mutant superpowered bureaucrats poised to take over the world...

          Hmm, maybe I need to think about this a bit more.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As several astute readers who bothered to read the first fucking sentence of the linked article have pointed out, Hanford was used to produce nuclear material for weapons, not for energy. So let's save the energy debate for another thread.

    I'm not particularly pro-nuclear, but I think it's always important to obtain a clear understanding of the details before assimilating a presented fact into my framework for thinking about things. In this case, that means not conflating nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

  • I stated working at Hanford in 1979 on the cleanup. We had many plans including a deep underground basalt storage system and glassification of radioactive waste. I even spent one year working on the instrumentation for the underground basalt storage system before I went on to other things. Hanford was screwed up then and it will still be screwed up when I die!

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