Feds Say Hanford’s PUREX Plant Is Degrading, Needs Stabilizing Soon
A new federal report says that a massive building at the Hanford Nuclear Site is worse off than managers thought.
The so-called PUREX — Plutonium Uranium Extraction — plant isn’t clean. Starting in 1956 the plant processed loads of plutonium. Its walls are up to 6 feet thick, and it’s as long as three football fields.
PUREX is located within Hanford’s 200 East Area. It’s about 7 miles from the Columbia River and 5 miles from State Highway 240.
Locals call these large buildings with deep underground walls “canyons.” They’re also called “Queen Marys” because of their long shape resembling ocean liners sailing amid the sagebrush.
Now, the behemoth canyon is slowly degrading. Final cleanup isn’t slated for more than a decade, around 2032. After studying the PUREX plant, the federal government has just released a new plan that would stabilize the building for now. But it’s hard to balance all the urgent cleanups on the site, according to Theresa Howell with the Washington State Department of Ecology. There’s 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge stored in aging underground tanks, too.
“It’s an ongoing struggle at Hanford to continue to get funding to address all of the risks out there,” Howell said. “So this is one way to get a little bit of movement forward.”
If not dealt with soon, Washington state officials say they worry the PUREX plant will contaminate the environment.
The new federal report underscores that worry, saying: “…the 202A Building [PUREX] has degraded. Spread of contamination has been observed throughout the building and has the potential to continue as the facilities degrade.”
The report from the independent Government Accountability Office says the U.S. Department of Energy has not found the root causes of the partial collapse of the waste-storage tunnel, and that failures in DOE’s investigation, inspections and maintenance of other aging and contaminated facilities is concerning. Continue Reading Federal Watchdog Criticizes Energy Department For Hanford Cleanup, Tunnel Collapse
From 1949 to 1989, the massive plant’s job was to turn caustic liquids containing plutonium into solid plutonium “buttons,” as they were known. The finished buttons were about the size of hockey pucks and were used for America’s nuclear weapons. Continue Reading Hanford’s Long-Shuttered Plutonium Finishing Plant Is Now Demolished After Delays, Safety Issues
Washington Department of Ecology leaders say without access to this data, they can’t effectively protect the land, air and water for residents in eastern Washington and surrounding communities. They say they’ve attempted to negotiate this issue with federal Energy managers for years. Continue Reading Washington State Regulators Fine Feds More Than $1 Million Over Hanford Cleanup Data