Clean up work at the Hanford Site in Washington State – production base for weapons-bound plutonium in previous years – has reached a milestone with completion of radioactive sludge removal from the first of 12 storage tank farms on site, officials are saying.
Once begun, the project lasted 19 years, although there were also many years spent planning the process for sludge removal. It had been decided in 1997 to remove the waste from the underground, single-walled steel tanks that were expected to last for 20 years. Instead, the tanks, some filled with sludge from plutonium production from 1947, have lasted 70 years. It is thought that seven of the tanks may have leaked with some of the the sludge seeping into the ground. Each tank held 2 million liters of sludge – about 530,000 gallons.
The new tanks – 28 of them now filled – are double-walled containers that will be utilized until the new vitrification facility at the site is completed. The sludge will then be converted to glass-like logs, which will be the final step before storage in a permanent repository once that becomes available.
There are 133 more tanks slated for sludge transfer. The empty tanks, the Associated Press reported, may be filled with a concrete-like grout in an effort to contain the remaining radioactivity.
Cleanup work at Hanford began in the 1980s. Concerning the first completed tank farm sludge project, “it's taken longer than we had hoped, but we're still very happy to see retrievals completed at the first Hanford tank farm,” said Washington Department of Ecology official Alex Smith, who works in nuclear waste program.
Altogether, there are 149 single walled storage tanks on the property, which is half the size of Rhode Island. The tanks contain about 56 million gallons of toxic waste.
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