Title: Technical problems still bedevil Hanford plant
Source: Seattle Times
Author: Craig Welch
Date: March 23, 2012
So many technical issues now plague a $12.2 billion plant that’s supposed to rid the Hanford nuclear reservation of millions of gallons of radioactive waste [...]
Engineers admitted they still have not resolved major safety problems with the plant [...] 12 years after design of the Western world’s most expensive and complex construction project began. [...]
Even though the project is half-built, engineers acknowledged they still haven’t figured out how, once it is operational, they will keep waste stirred up so it doesn’t spark a nuclear chain reaction.
Officials also are still working out ways to avoid hydrogen explosions in miles of piping and prevent radioactive waste from eating its way through metal tanks in a building that will be so polluted that no human could get inside and make repairs during the 40-year life of the plant. [...]
[...] contractors told a federal panel Thursday they can’t say how much waste it ultimately will treat [...]
During a rare public hearing in the Tri-Cities on Thursday, the federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a nuclear-oversight panel appointed by the White House [...]
So to make sure the plant is safe, engineers may have to rule out processing some volume of the waste, either because it contains high volumes of plutonium or because the mix of chemicals and gases is corrosive or explosive.
That means some as-yet unproven new technologies will have to be used to deal with at least some of Hanford’s waste.
Asked by the chairman of the safety board how much waste will fall into that category, Dale Knutson, the Department of Energy’s project director, said it was still too soon to say.
“As a personal opinion, I’m still convinced a vast majority of the waste will be treatable,” he said.
Read the in-depth report here
Published: March 23rd, 2012 at 8:05 pm ET