[R-G] Energy Department Faulted for Mishandling Hanford Nuclear Waste
tchilds at resist.ca
tchilds at resist.ca
Sat Jul 19 00:57:57 MDT 2008
Energy Department Faulted for Mishandling Hanford Nuclear Waste
WASHINGTON, DC, July 14, 2008 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy
doesn't know enough about the condition and contents of millions of
gallons of radioactive and hazardous wastes stored in tanks at its Hanford
Site in Washington state to make good decisions about cleanup and costs,
according to a new report by Congress's investigative agency.
The findings issued by the U.S. General Accountability Office are the
latest in a string of critiques finding fault with the way the Department
of Energy is handling Hanford, which GAO natural resources and development
director Gene Aloise called "one of the most contaminated places on
Situated on 586 square miles along the Columbia River in southeastern
Washington, upstream from the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, the
Hanford Site was established in 1943 to produce plutonium for atomic
bombs, as part of the government's top-secret Manhattan Project.
Hanford manufactured nuclear materials through 1989, a mission that left
in its wake the world's largest environmental cleanup project.
Hanford tanks hold millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste. (Photo
Now, the Department of Energy is responsible for managing more than 56
million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste stored in 149
single-shell and 28 double-shell underground tanks.
Of those, 67 are confirmed or presumed to have already leaked about one
million gallons of waste into the ground. In 2000, the estimated cost of
tank waste cleanup was estimated at nearly $50 billion.
One of the agency's plans is to convert some of the most perilous
radioactive waste into glass, a process called vitrification. But the
process of conversion is stymied by the fact that some of the radioactive
elements have formed "unknown compounds" while in storage.
The Energy Deparment has an agreement with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and state of Washington's Department of Ecology to
remove waste from single-shelled tanks by the fall of 2018 and
"immobilize" all tank waste by the end of 2028.
But the department is far behind schedule. By its latest estimate,
according to the GAO report, waste treatment will not begin until late
2019 and it could continue to 2050 and beyond.
In its report issued June 30, the GAO recommended that the Department of
Energy give priority to assessing the integrity of single-shelled tanks;
quantify specific risks of continuing to use the tanks; and work with
state and federal agencies on a realistic cleanup schedule.
In response, DOE said the recommendations were consistent with what it is
already doing or plans to do, but disagreed that it lacks the knowledge to
make informed decisions about the integrity of the tanks and retrieving
and treating the waste.
Previous investigations by the GAO concluded that flaws in the Department
of Energy's management of Hanford have led to higher costs, construction
delays and safety concerns.
The Department of Energy's own inspector general found the department's
oversight of the contaminated site to be disorganized and disjointed.
"Without a complete and integrated planning, budgeting, and management
approach to the tank waste remediation project, the Department may be
unable to control, predict, explain, or defend future changes to cost and
schedule," the Office of Inspector General predicted in January 2000.
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