USATODAY: Official concerns over uncontrolled nuclear reaction risks inside plutonium facility near Portland

Published: January 18th, 2012 at 1:51 pm ET


Title: Hanford nuclear weapons site faces radiation cleanup challenges, delay
Author: Peter Eisler
Date: Jan 18, 2012
Emphasis Added

A USA TODAY investigation has found that the troubled, 10-year effort to build the [Hanford, WA] treatment plant faces enormous problems just as it reaches what was supposed to be its final stage.

In exclusive interviews, several senior engineers cited design problems that could bring the plant’s operations to a halt before much of the waste is treated. Their reports have spurred new technical reviews and raised official concerns about the risk of a hydrogen explosion or uncontrolled nuclear reaction inside the plant. Either could damage critical equipment, shut the facility down or, worst case, allow radiation to escape. […]

We’re continuing with a failed design,” said Donald Alexander, a senior U.S. government scientist on the project.

The Old Problems

More than 60 of the tanks are thought to have leaked, losing a million gallons of waste into soil and groundwater. So far, the contamination remains within the boundaries of the barren, 586-square-mile site, but it poses an ongoing threat to the nearby Columbia River, a water source for communities stretching southwest to Portland, Ore. And, while the liquid most likely to escape from the older tanks has been moved to newer, double-walled tanks, the risk of more leaks compounds that threat.

The New Problems

  • The thicker, high-level waste doesn’t flow according to usual laws of physics; it glugs like ketchup spurting from a bottle. The challenge is to keep it moving: If particles in the material accumulate, they can cause clogs, trapping potentially explosive hydrogen gas or, if too much plutonium masses together, triggering an uncontrolled nuclear reaction that generates extreme heat and radioactivity, threatening workers and the plant’s operation.
  • Some of the high-level waste has turned out to be more complex than anticipated, with plutonium particles up to 10 times larger than expected. That has heightened concerns among several scientists, including Tamosaitis and the staff of the nuclear facilities safety board, that the systems designed to churn that waste need further testing to address the threat of hydrogen buildup or a nuclear reaction.
  • Alexander, the Energy Department scientist, also worries about the pre-treatment mixing system. Because the mixing jets and vessels were not designed to handle the larger plutonium particles and other abrasives in the high-level waste, he said, the material is likely to erode the vessels’ lining.  […] “If they don’t make any changes and just move ahead, it lasts maybe 10 years.”

Read the report here

Published: January 18th, 2012 at 1:51 pm ET


Related Posts

  1. High-level whistleblower: Plutonium may cause explosion at Washington nuclear facility — Design manager warns of ‘dire’ consequences November 22, 2011
  2. Gov’t: “Alarming” release of radioactivity from US nuclear site — AP: “Uncontrolled spread of contamination” — Official: Contains “high levels of radioactive isotopes” (VIDEO) February 24, 2016
  3. TV: Officials near San Francisco to monitor Fukushima plume, concerns for environment and food supply — Supervisor: The risks to Californians are concerning — Commissioner: We can’t rely on Japan or Tepco — Will waves of cesium and strontium pollute coast? (VIDEO) December 6, 2013
  4. Coverup? Safety manager at Washington nuclear site: Criticality could be probable — Worried about hydrogen explosion — Up to 13 times more plutonium than thought, like 20+ Nagasaki bombs January 17, 2012
  5. NPR: Newly leaked report warns plutonium levels at Hanford may be much higher than claimed — “The Columbia River is at stake, all of that area and its vitality” says Washington Governor January 18, 2012

40 comments to USATODAY: Official concerns over uncontrolled nuclear reaction risks inside plutonium facility near Portland

  • Cataclysmic Cataclysmic

    Admin..not near Portland but Portland is down are many communities. Tri Cities Washington.. Hanford..

  • enoughalready45 enoughalready45

    The justification for the atomic bomb was that in the end we saved lots of American lives because the alternative was to invade Japan. Well if this thing goes up we are going to loose a lot of not just American lives but lives around the world. In the end we may not have won afterall.

  • In my [warning: self-serving plug] novel, in 2052 the new Pilgrims discover they cannot safely get to Canada because Hanford has been abandoned, ruining a wide swath of North America. Not that Canada is clean, just not as hot as, say California …

    • NoNukes NoNukes

      can’t wait to read it, risabee!

      • Aww … Cheapest is the free blog. PDF is 2.99, EPUB 3.99, paper is (ouch) 18.99, typos and all. It could use crit, as my ignorance of things nuclear does show, in spite of research efforts. Not going to get rich, that’s for sure 😉

        • PoorDaddy PoorDaddy

          Hi risa…tried leaving comment on your blog twice…froze up both times, so will leave my comment here.
          Read the first 3 chapters and I’m hooked. Will do the PDF soon.
          Particularly liked this passage.
          “Doll, her beloved one-eared pink bunny, was sitting on the top step of Karen’s step ladder. With a sweep of her left hand, Karen knocked her childhood onto the floor, then hauled herself out the skylight behind her gear.”

          • StillJill StillJill

            Oh yeah risa,…that’s my kind of writing! Thanks PoorDaddy for the mini book report. Got me hooked on one turn of the page!

  • Tumrgrwer Tumrgrwer

    Mod. please fix the ENENEWS logo at top, looks to be hacked…

    Let us be kind, one to another, for we are each of us together in our pain!

    • Chelsea Chelsea

      It’s blacked out to protest against SOPA and PIPA, two internet censorship bills in the house and senate as we speak. Go to wikipedia and it will explain it.

  • Fudo

    The ene logo is blacked out for the SOPA/PIPA web protest.

    Wikipedia and a few other sites are blacked out today.

    • Tumrgrwer Tumrgrwer

      Thank you Fudo, stuck here, feeling dumb…

      Let us be kind, one to another, for we are each of us together in our pain!

      • aigeezer aigeezer

        Not dumb, Tumr, just uninformed by any mainstream media about the upcoming protest. 😉

      • StillJill StillJill

        I said and did the EXACT same thing you did friend,….only about 5 hours before you! (Thought that ENENEWS was hacked because of the black-out logo.) Please don’t feel badly. Hey, at least we’re observant, eh?

  • jimbojamesiv

    Look, without knowing nothing about anything, if you ask me this new, nuclear incident in Washington, or is it Oregon, is to give more cover to Fukushima.

    I understand how they want to say it’s just a coincidence that this is about the fourth incident in the past 6 months, but I’d say it’s more likely to plausibly deny the US government’s failure to report what exactly happened these past 10 months.

    It’s either that or Haarp caused Fukushima to happen, and I don’t believe that Haarp caused the earthquake or tsunami, which induced the reactors to collapse and explode, although it’s not so clear anymore that the reactors blew because they weren’t adequately cooled.

    • Cataclysmic Cataclysmic


      Washington state has the highest rate for MS in the nation. Coincidence? hmmm.. and I actually think there is a Fukushima correlation, but not the same as you.. in reverse.

      I suspect the reason we have heard more about Nuke problems in this country, over the last year, is the sheer fact that more people are looking under the skirt of this lazy sloppy greedy industry.

      We have had many problems at Hanford.. the liners of pools of unknown radioactive goo have leaked and are very close to the Columbia river.. Patty Murray been fighting budget cuts aimed at trying to cut funds for this “super” site clean up for years..

      Hanford is a MUCH bigger mess than the general populace understands..

      ..of course, just my two cents..

      • Radio VicFromOregon

        An almost incomprehensible mess, as you know, Cataclysmic. And, will continue to pose the greater danger in our region than Fukushima, or even nearby reactors ever will. Fukushima may be the fiery nuclear hell, but, Hanford is the bowels.

    • Radio VicFromOregon

      Many people here in the Pacific Northwest have been dealing with drawing attention to Hanford, and this latest article is one example of those efforts. It’s not to take away attention from Fukushima but to show how widespread the nuclear danger issue is everywhere. Over the years we’ve managed to close down one reactor, Trojan, and stop the building of three more right in the middle of construction, WHOOPS as it came to be known. We’ve just finished cleaning up of the storehouse of chemical and biological weapons kept in our backyard from WWI, WWII, and the Cold War. This all came about, in part, because many of us kept the pressure on and the issue in the public eye whenever possible. We our all safer for it. So, give us our 10 minutes of fame. Thanks.

      • Cataclysmic Cataclysmic

        100+ big mess..
        ..are you aware of the Boise Reactor?
        “AEHI Begins Next Phase On Proposed Nuclear Power Plant In Payette County, Idaho

        BOISE, IDAHO – January 3, 2012: Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (OTC:AEHI.PK; announced today the company filed a 60-day notice with Payette County, Idaho in preparation of federal site approval work related to AEHI’s proposed nuclear power plant. The notice is a key prerequisite for the next phase of the project. It is also part of the company’s legal obligation to Payette County prior to beginning any official work including core boring, environmental study, and installation of meteorological survey towers as part of the federal COLA process.

        “We have waited a long time to get to this phase, in part because of several other steps that had to be accomplished first. AEHI had to find a suitable site, which is very challenging in the western US and receive rezone approval from Payette County, which has been done. We then had to contract a firm to handle site engineering and the NRC COL Application, which we accomplished with ENERCON. We also needed a project director to take care of a lot of the required documentation among other things, which includes the 60-day notice, and we did that when we announced the hiring of Pete Honeysett. I believe crossing these hurdles keeps us on the path to accomplishing our goal of building a nuclear power plant,” said Don Gillispie, AEHI CEO.

        AEHI announced final rezone approval from Payette County on June 20, 2011″

        • Cataclysmic Cataclysmic

          ???”..installation of meteorological survey towers as part of the federal COLA process.”

          COLA is Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies


          I do recall some mention recently about antenna and nuke plants..

          …dots anybody? I haven’t quite connected them, but there is a loose association forming..

        • Radio VicFromOregon

          Yes, i did read about that. I’m thinking they have a snowball’s chance in hades between a fairly emergent groundswell of antinukers and the unfolding disaster at Fukushima, not to mention that even Wall Street is starting to pull the plug on new reactor development. Maybe in a region that needs the electricity, but, we are still exporting at least 1/4 of what we generate to points south at this time.

          I thought that i read somewhere that nuclear reactor cooling towers generate their own weather to some extent given the heat and steam output up the stack. Maybe that’s the reason for the meteorological equipment on site?

  • StillJill StillJill

    You are right,…nothing is clear! Nothing except the HUGE amounts of radioactive isotopes that are SPEWING from FUKU!

  • selfsovereign

    It was announced 12+ years ago on all regional news in Warshington state that the aquafer was contaminated with radioactive materials. They then said, at that time, that in 5 years this contamination would travel from eastern Warshington to western Warshington.

    Some of the local loco politicians were led by the nose to believe that the rocks containing the precious aquafer would in fact filter out the radiation itself.
    This form of retarded cognitive dissonance, to be dissmissive of multi-generational toxicity in this case, is really par for the course in politics in the greater Puget Sound area and Warshington state in general. Whether it’s Senator slade gorton (911 comission liar) defending the interests of warren buffets dams on the columbia, or putting a monetary limit on environmental recovery – The fox has been in the henhouse all along in the beatiful state of Warshington.
    Even some of the city/county politicians were aware that the plutonium acid in those tanks had burned/eaten their way down DECADES ago.
    I was told by someone in the nefarious “know zone” that – ‘One time, when they went to check on the levels in the plutonium holding tanks, some of them were just empty’


    • ruth

      Now I wondering if I should move to Vancouver, WA as I had planned.

    • Radio VicFromOregon

      Yes, selfsovereign, that is absolutely correct. The tanks were empty, their contents leaked into the ground and making their way to the Columbia River with no way, at present, to stop it. It is due to arrive at any time.

  • bmurr bmurr

    The reason we dropped the bombs was to force the rest of the world into a Nuclear Bomb development race resulting in the boom of nuclear power technology so that GE could sell the technology around the world. Japan was turned into a market for the post war United States economy. (my opinion)
    Truman did not need to drop the bomb to end the war. The Japan’s codes were broken at the time, we knew they were going to surrender, this has been admitted to by people from the Truman administration.

  • Whoopie Whoopie

    Wish we had a chat here. You know, where we could put our heads together and brainstorm QUICKLY. This Thread seems slow so I’ll put this here – a link everyone should bookmark NOW. Keep it handy. Hopefully a certain Pro=Nuke wont see it. If IT does, so what…we’ll create another, and another and another. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh……

  • atoms4peace1

    We definitely have a lot of work to do to clean up the site. The model is the Rocky Flats site (now a wild game preserve) outside Boulder Colorado. Once called “the most dangerous building in America” by Ted Koppel, what was once a plutonium finishing plant outside of Denver, is now a natural preserve.

    It can be done. It just will take a lot of commitment.

    Hanford is vast. Its not something that will go away.

    We have a lot of work to do. Who is up for the technical challenges to keep the site safe and more importantly the people that risk their lives working there.

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    Washington’s Hanford Reservation and nuclear plant may lie on faults
    “cool geology”..oh..geeze….