Hanford Warnings from 2014: Fired Whistleblowers, Cracking Containers, Failing Dam
May 5, 2016 RT News & USA Today & Associated Press & Northwest Public Radio
"Significant construction flaws" have been found in at least 6 of the 28 double-shelled radioactive waste storage tanks at the Hanford nuclear waste complex in Washington State. The operators were warned of the problems in 2014. Now concerns are rising as "huge amounts" of radioactive fumes have continued to pour from the damaged containment vessel for "more than two weeks," sending growing numbers of plant workers to local hospitals.
Three More Workers Injured as Nuke Plant Continues Leaking
'Construction Flaws' in Six Hanford Nuclear
Waste Tanks, 13 More May Be Compromised – Report RT News
(March 1, 2014) -- "Significant construction flaws" have been found in at least 6 of the 28 double shelled radioactive waste storage tanks at the Hanford nuclear waste complex in Washington State, which may lead to additional leaks, documents obtained by the AP say.
After one of the 28 huge underground double shelled tanks was found to be leaking in 2012, subsequent surveys performed for the US Department of Energy by one of its Hanford contractors found that at least six of the other tanks shared the same defects, according to the documents. A further 13 tanks may also be compromised, the inspectors found.
"It is time for the Department (of Energy) to stop hiding the ball and pretending that the situation at Hanford is being effectively managed," Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore, who until recently was chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrote Friday in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
According to him, the six double-walled tanks which have construction flaws similar to those at the leaking tank contain about 5 million gallons of radioactive wastes.
Wyden also criticized the Department of Energy for not mentioning the flaw in the double walled tanks in a September framework plan for a cleanup in Hanford.
"The citizens living along the banks of the Columbia River deserve to know the full story of what is happening with the Hanford tanks," Wyden wrote. He also asked the Department of Energy to give him a response in 45 days.
Hanford is located on the Columbia River in Washington State near the border with Oregon and contains 53 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste from the production of plutonium for the US nuclear weapons program. It was built during World War Two as part of the Manhattan Project to build the nuclear bomb.
There are some 177 underground storage tanks on the site, many of which date back to World War Two. These are single skinned and many have already leaked. The 28 double walled tanks were built as replacement between the 1960's and 1980's.
After the AP published its report, Senator Doc Hastings, R-Wash, released a statement saying there is "no new threat to our communities or our environment" and that "new storage tanks will never be a panacea" for the Hanford nuclear waste problem.
Energy Department officials in Richland near Hanford insisted that they are continuing to make thorough inspections of the tanks and that the frequency of inspections has been increased from five-seven years to every three years.
Tom Fletcher, the Department of Energy's assistant manager to the tank farms, said his teams are now in the process of looking at the final eight double walled tanks that haven't been inspected since the 2012 leak was discovered.
"If there are changes or improvements we need to make in the program, based on what we learn, to make sure we capture the risks that exist on the tank farms, we will make them," Fletcher said.
Tom Carpenter from a citizen's watchdog group called Hanford Challenge said he wasn't surprised at the news of the leaking tanks.
"These tanks have an engineering design life, and we're reaching the end. Its bad planning that they don't have new tanks up and running," he said.
"The price for cleaning up the environment once this stuff gets out is incalculable," he added.
SPOKANE, Wash. (February 18, 2014) -- Whistle-blower Donna Busche, who raised safety concerns at the nation's most polluted nuclear weapons production site, was fired Tuesday from her job at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Busche's complaints are part of a string of whistle-blower and other claims related to the design and safety of an unfinished waste treatment plant at Hanford. Busche, 50, said she was called into the office Tuesday morning and told she was being fired for cause.
"I turned in my key and turned in my badge and left the building," Busche told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Richland.
Busche worked for URS Corp., which is helping build a $12 billion plant to turn Hanford's most dangerous wastes into glass. Construction of the plant has been halted over safety concerns. Busche has filed complaints with the federal government, alleging she has suffered retaliation since filing her original safety complaint in 2011.
Hanford was created by the federal government in the 1940s as part of the top-secret project to build the atomic bomb, and cleanup costs today run about $2 billion annually.
Central to the cleanup is dealing with 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. The waste is stored in 177 aging underground tanks, many of which have leaked, threatening the groundwater and the neighboring Columbia River.
The US Department of Energy is investigating Busche's safety concerns, while the US Department of Labor is reviewing her complaints about retaliation and harassment.
URS Corp. said in a statement it encourages employees to raise safety concerns. "We do not agree with her assertions that she suffered retaliation or was otherwise treated unfairly," URS said, adding Busche was fired for reasons unrelated to the safety concerns. "Ms. Busche's allegations will not withstand scrutiny."
The Energy Department, which owns Hanford, said it was informed of the firing after the fact. "The department was not asked to and did not approve this action," the agency said in a news release.
A one-of-a-kind plant is being built to convert the waste into glasslike logs for permanent disposal underground, but it has faced numerous technical problems, delays and cost increases.
Busche is the second Hanford whistle-blower to be fired by URS in recent months. Walter Tamosaitis, who also raised safety concerns about the plant, was fired in October after 44 years of employment.
Busche, who worked at the plant for nearly five years, said she had been expecting to be fired for the past month. "Right now I will take a deep breath, file for unemployment and start another lawsuit for wrongful termination," Busche said.
She declined to reveal her salary but called herself a "highly compensated executive." Busche was a manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the waste treatment plant construction site, and her primary job was ensuring compliance with dangerous waste permits and safety documents.
Tom Carpenter of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge called Busche's firing an act of desperation. "They couldn't make her leave," Carpenter said. "Hanford's war on whistle-blowers has taken a new victim."
Busche worked at Energy Department nuclear complexes her entire career, generally in nuclear safety, quality assurance or regulatory compliance. Busche filed her most recent complaint in November, alleging she has suffered retaliation by URS and Bechtel National Inc., the plant's main contractor. She filed the new complaint with the Labor Department. Operators Struggle with Major Crack in Dam;
Spillway Could Topple Northwest Public Radio
(March 3, 2014) -- Dam operators are struggling to find a solution for a major underwater crack in the Wanapum Dam. It spans the Columbia River in central Washington [ . . . ] The worst-case scenario is if the spillway was to topple. But [Thomas Stredwick, Grant County Public Utility District] thinks other sections of the dam would hold on and downstream communities should be safe. >> Listen to the broadcast here
Associated Press (March 3, 2014): Pressure caused a slight bowing in the dam that was first detected Feb. 24 by a staff member who noticed a curb on the road on top of the spillway was out of alignment. Engineers sent down divers who discovered the crack Thursday, 75-feet below the waterline.
The crack extends all 65 feet across the monolith, which is 126 feet tall and 92 feet thick. Stredwick doesn't think the crack extend all the way through the pier [ . . . ] about 20 miles downriver is the Priest Rapids dam, near the Hanford nuclear reservation.
KIMA-TV (March 2, 2014): The Wanapum Dam built almost 50 years ago has a crack in it. Officials don't know how it happened, and neighbors are worried.
Kyle Rosskelly: "The aging of these structures and we should be on top of it, so if there's something we could have done to prevent it, it's pretty surprising it hasn't been done."
Thomas Stredwick, Grant County Public Utility District: "That's what they're really inspecting at this time, so right now, we don't have any information either way. What we're doing is stabilizing" […]
KIMA: Kyle is still concerned about the worst-case scenario.
Kyle: "It's pretty crazy. It's one of the biggest dams in the state, and it's going to be a catastrophe if something happens."
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