Hanford Officials Prepare For Worst With Leaking Tank

Nov 14, 2012

Routine periodic visual monitoring (via camera) of the AY-102 annulus found material that was never before seen.
Credit U.S. Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – Workers the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are readying pumping equipment at a slow-leaking radioactive waste tank in case the leak gets worse. A newly released report details why the tank became unstable.

Hanford officials say so far they’ve found no waste leaking into the environment from the tank called AY-102.

The new report says many of the tanks original welds from 40 years ago didn’t meet standards and had to be fixed before it was filled. Later, super-hot waste was added that was likely corrosive to the tank’s metal walls.

Refractory installation of tank AY-102 at Hanford circa 1970.
Credit U.S. Department of Energy

John Britton is with the contractor that manages these tanks for the federal government. He says his company is getting ready to pump the waste out of the tank in case that becomes necessary.

“We’re not really sure of the extent of the problem with AY-102 yet," Britton says. "We’re not in a crisis situation where we’re actively pumping the tank -– we may get there. I can’t postulate whether or not if we’re going to get there.”

Britton says the leak wasn’t detected earlier because the million gallon tank has only leaked up to 520 gallons so far. He says that’s like a fraction-of-an-inch level change.

On the Web:

Tank 241 AY-102 Leak Assessment Report (US Dept. of Energy)

Hanford's Tank Farms (Hanford.gov)