Letter - Nuclear waste is worse than imagined

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The Hanford site is the most contaminated area in the world. It holds two-thirds of all U.S. nuclear waste.

In 1943, the Manhattan Project was rushed into operation at Hanford during the most difficult period of World War II. It produced plutonium for use in the assembly of the nuclear bombs used to win the war.

More nuclear weapons were needed to fight the Cold War. The Hanford facilities grew to nine reactors and helped produce ingredients for more than 50,000 nuclear bombs.

Reactors use enormous volumes of water for cooling. That’s why the location was chosen at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers. The largest reactors were finally shut down in 1970, 1971 and 1987.

There are 53 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste at Hanford. Steel drums hold 50 gallons. Just this type of waste would fill one million drums. It was impossible to hold the waste in drums because they literally rusted through.

Therefore, it was collected in 177 huge underground tanks. Unfortunately, the tanks started to leak.

It was decided to transfer the waste to specially constructed double-wall tanks. It was calculated that most of the liquid waste could be transferred by 2024. Unfortunately, the new tanks started to leak.

It is now thought that better tanks may be available to store 8 million gallons by 2024. At that rate just the transfer of 53 million gallons of just this type of waste to new tanks will take until 2040. This refers to only containment, not elimination.

There are doubts that even the most advanced-type tanks can withstand the effects of that waste.

When the old tanks are emptied there are more than 400,000 gallons of built-up radioactive sludge left in each discarded tank. There is no technical process for cleaning out and controlling that sludge.

Workmen cannot go anywhere close to those empty tanks because the sludge has an even higher radioactive concentration than the extracted liquid. This is an impossible situation that cannot be controlled, much less eliminated.

Plutonium has a half life of 24,300 years and takes 243,000 years to decay. The whole situation is much, much worse than most people dreamed.

Abel Carreno

Walla Walla

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