Title: Hanford Nuclear Safety Manager Questions Waste Treatment Plant : NPR
Author: Anna King
Date: Jan 17, 2012
Transcript Excerpts (Emphasis Added)
Waste in underground tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may have much more plutonium than previously thought. [...]
Here is why you should care about what Donna Busche says. She told me she’s the manager for environmental and nuclear safety at Hanford’s waste treatment plant.
“I’m where the nuclear safety buck stops,” Busche says. [...]
[The] tanks near the Columbia River are in danger of leaking more radioactive sludge into the ground, or worse, one could rupture. [...]
“We continue to build it even with these big, huge lingering issues”, say says. “Like:
- Is criticality safety a concern?
- Do I have fire protection programs that will actually make sure my systems perform as they’re intended?
- Do I have a control strategy to make sure my pipes don’t blow up from a hydrogen explosion?”
At least 3 times more plutonium sludge than thought
Listen to these numbers: Hanford engineers used to think they had 10 kilograms of plutonium in the tanks. They now believe they’ve got between 30 and 130 kilograms. [...] The nuclear bomb at Nagasaki had about 6 kilograms of plutonium.
“Since day one of the project, many years before I got here, the project has designed the plant assuming criticality was incredible. Which means criticality it would never happen, never,” Busche says.
A criticality is when radioactive atoms release a burst of energy.
“So this new information that we have received, that was prepared by very smart people, looking through old records, has given us new information meaning criticality could be probable in the plant. We don’t know what the design solutions are, but they could be significant,” Busche says.
Here’s another of Busche’s concerns: That radioactive sludge can create hydrogen gas. If it builds up in a closed space it can blow up. And Busche worries the plant’s complex system of pipes isn’t robust enough to withstand hydrogen explosions. And once the plant starts working, it’s not like you can go in and fix those pipes. [...]
The plant’s black cells are where the waste is pretreated and processed, and they will be so radioactively hot that they’re impossible to enter. Imagine fixing a leaky kitchen sink without opening the kitchen cabinets.
Asked to change answers by managers
Busche raised her concerns to her supervisors, and to their supervisors. She even testified at a major two-day hearing of the national Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in 2010.
During her testimony to the board she gave different answers than top-level officials with the Department of Energy and contractors Bechtel National and URS. Afterward, she says her managers asked her to change her answers. Busche said “No.” [...]
Listen to the full report here
Published: January 17th, 2012 at 10:14 am ET