So, about those double-tank shells at the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site? Yeah, they may not be working out all that swell right now. Tank AY-102 has taught us that much.

Now the Hanford Advisory Board wants the Dept. of Energy to build new tanks for the radioactive waste currently stored in the double-shell tanks, a thought that not long ago was considered rubbish.

As of now, crews still haven’t fully cleaned out all 149 single-shell tanks—some of which have a history of leaking—and money is going toward doing that and figuring out how to safely store the waste they pull out of those tanks. The 28 double-shell tanks were thought of as a safe haven, of sorts, for the Hanford waste, all 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical-filled waste from the World War II-era site. They were long considered a decent temporary storage until the waste could get fully treated. Now? Concern.

With a leak in the inner portion of tank AY-102, the board wants the DOE to look into creating new storage sites, at least in an emergency situation, for the waste in the 28 tanks. You see, AY-102 has folks worried. The tank was designed to last 40 years. That was 41 years ago. The double-shell makeup consists of an outer shell 30 inches from the inner shell. With waste found in that “annulus” in AY-102, a tank that houses 850,000 gallons of sludge and liquid waste, there remains fear the outer shell may fail or that the 27 other inner shells may soon follow.

Hanford crews had been pumping the single-shell waste into these double-shell tanks. But now the board wants the Dept. of Energy to consider ways to efficiently clear out double-shell tanks, if needed. In short, the board wants “agility” in handling the waste, complete with options of where to quickly move around waste in an emergency situation. And since the $13-billion Vit Plant to turn this liquid waste into vitrified glass for safe storage doesn’t have a firm online date (the tentative date for accepting waste stands at 2019), flexibility may prove paramount.

Add in the fact that officials planned to use the double-shell tanks as a sort of loading dock for the vit plant, a place to mix and match waste components, the DOE may need a completely new place to set the stage.

AY-102 may have taught Hanford folks a few lessons. Hopefully those lessons help when it comes to storing waste and final planning for the vit plant. 

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