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Earth Government Science Technology

Radioactivity Cleanup At Hanford Nuclear Reservation, 25 Years On 123

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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  • 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 fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @06:26PM (#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 Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @07:13PM (#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 manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @09:14PM (#47035079)

    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?

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday May 18, 2014 @10:31PM (#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).

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Monday May 19, 2014 @01:15AM (#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.

  • 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.

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.