Only like “the contents of a can of soda…” – How they spin the gravity of Hanford’s leaking nuclear waste tanks…

(This is a follow-up on 
The Hanford Site, holding the Pacific Northwest at Nuclear Gunpoint 
from the end of May 2013.)

After my visit to the B Reactor, I drove a half hour into the Hanford Site, until I reached the armed checkpoint, where I smiled at the guard and said "I guess this is as far in as I can go, right?"  Without the proper badge, I had to U-turn.  But I could see the worst contaminated site in the distance (with the cranes), where the cleanup operation is in full swing.   Hanford Site, Washington Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2013

After my visit to the B Reactor, I drove a half hour into the Hanford Site, until I reached the armed checkpoint, where I smiled at the guard and said “I guess this is as far in as I can go, right?” Without the proper badge, I had to U-turn. But I could see the worst contaminated site in the distance (with the cranes), where the cleanup operation is in full swing.
Hanford Site, Washington
Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2013

The shortlink for this blogpost is http://wp.me/puwO9-23a

I read stuff…  Like this, dutifully reported by King 5 News, whose reports on the Hanford Site have helped bring this issue to the regional mainstream’s attention.  I would appreciate it if they dug just a notch deeper and pointed out the deceptive cold war tendencies still at work:  The nuclear industry has always been incapable of telling the whole truth.  Seems to come with the territory.  Hard to shake, apparently.   It happens all the time.  Here’s an example I noticed today – read/watch this report:

Leak in Hanford double-shell tank getting worse

So, in it, they quote from the private contractor WRPS [my emphasis]:

“A spokesman for Washington River Protection Solutions said only a small amount of liquid has leaked. “AY-102 continues to leak small amounts of waste material into its annulus.  The current best estimate is that the liquid volume at the leak accumulation site has increased from approximately 0.2 gallons on September 26, 2012, to approximately 0.4 gallons on June 12, 2013.  The increase between the last two inspections was approximately 0.1 gallons or about the contents of a 12-ounce can of soda,” the spokesman said.  WRPS is the private company that manages the Hanford tank farms for the Department of Energy.”

“Can of soda…”  Nice sound bite try…   Okay, 12 ounces of waste from AY-102…  Are they serious?  They call that small?  Comparing it to a can of soda to belittle it?  For real?  Do they think this is funny or something?   Here’s my calculation for that “can of soda” “little amount” of waste leaking INCREASE (since last inspection) into the annulus of tank AY-102…

0.1 gallon is volume, translates to… [gallon to liter]… is 0.3785412 liter, lets round up to 0.38, and then go extreme conservative in this estimate by taking the density of water (about a kg per liter) and – for ease of calculation – let’s just say that only 0.4 kg (400 grams) leaked out, an amount that could certainly fit in a 12 ounce soda can.  With as many heavy metals as are in there, it’s almost certain to be significantly more, and it’s very unlikely to be less, so I’m pretty sure “0.4 kg” is not exaggerating the guessed weight to guess how “little” leaked since last inspection.  Remember (from my blogpost 2 weeks before) that the stuff leaking out of tank AY-102 contains 3,363,300,000,000 Bq/Kg of Cs-137.  Easy:

0.4 kg x 3,363,300,000,000 Bq/Kg = 

So a “small leak”, right?  134,532,000,000 Bq of Cs-137 + 2/3rds more of other radioactive isotopes and extremely toxic chemicals.    That’s the 0.1 gallon that leaked since last inspection; all in all 4 times that has leaked into the annulus, so far.

But for this soda-can-style “tiny amount”,  let’s just ponder the Cesium-137 alone (half lafe: about 30 years, dangerous for half a millennium).   What does that even mean, right?

Well, to give you an idea, the Permanent Control Zone of  Chernobyl starts at 555,000 Bq/m^3.  (See my fallout map comparison of Chernobyl versus Fukushima, and – related to this: my blogpost re. Fallout maps for the United States) To get an idea of how bad the contents of such a “can of soda” are:  how many square meters can you contaminate with that “can of soda” that it would equal the contamination of that (mandatory & permanently closed) hot zone of Chernobyl ?

134,532,000,000 divided by 555,000 = 2,424,000 m^2 (square meters) = 0.93591 sq mile

So about 1 square mile would reach that extreme level if it nicely stayed in such a square mile.  But it it were to spread along the bottom of the Colombia River, let’s say a half mile wide for its first 30 miles (so by the town of Richland and Kennewich), just for the sake of ‘getting an idea of the scale of this stuff’s radioactivity, pretending that it wouldn’t wash out to the Ocean to add to the Fukushima contamination of the Pacific Ocean, it would leave that beautiful river stretch… with an activity rate, just for Cs-137, of…

555000 Bq/m^2 x 0.93591 sq mile / 15 sq miles =34,628 Bq/ m^2 over 15 miles of Colombia river, a half mile wide…  (and this is just a quarter of what’s leaking into the space only protected by one more barrier before reaching the soil!)   I’m sorry but, comparing it to just a “can of soda” may score some dark humor chuckles to people on the inside of this mess’ cleanup, but that’s incredibly deceptive, ’cause that really doesn’t sound like much at all.  And clearly: it is no “small amount”.

If it would make it through the second layer and keep going, it’s enough to significantly toxify the Colombia River, a drinking water and irrigation source for millions of people, for centuries to come.

Now let’s have a look at the average daily leaking:

[to repeat the quote, different emphasis of mine:]  “AY-102 continues to leak small amounts of waste material into its annulus.  The current best estimate is that the liquid volume at the leak accumulation site has increased from approximately 0.2 gallons on September 26, 2012, to approximately 0.4 gallons on June 12, 2013.  The increase between the last two inspections was approximately 0.1 gallons or about the contents of a 12-ounce can of soda,” the spokesman said. 

0.2 gallons increase from Sept 26, 2012 to June 12, 2013 = 259 days (not counting begin and end days).    So, to double the amount released from 0.1 gallon = 134,532,000,000 Bq of Cs-137 (+ 2/3rds of other radioactive isotopes and extremely toxic chemicals I’m not even looking into here) TIMES 2 = 269,064,000,000 Bq … in 259 days =  1,038,857 Bq PER DAY of just Cs-137 is leaking (+ 2/3rd of the rest, some of which is much worse, even including Plutonium traces).

Over a million becquerels of highly carcinogenic radioactive cesium-137 is leaking out of the interior of one tank EVERY DAY … and the spokesperson for the company in chanrge of cleanup spins that to sound as if that’s no big deal, just a “small amount,” just like “a can of soda”?      My goodness…  not sure if they’re’re trying to be funny, but in any case, I sure wish they’d stop the belittling.  That is not “small”, that’s actually extremely serious.  I’m pretty sure they’re aware of that.

Love how they’re all trying to keep this mess contained; everyone appreciates that, but there really is no reason to make this sound any bit less serious than it is.

“Can of Soda” translation:  The equivalent of radioactive Cesium-137 that could cover 4 square miles with a contamination as severe as the “Permanent Control Zone of  Chernobyl” has already leaked from the interior of Hanford tank AY-102 to its annulus.  Over a million becquerel of Cs-137 leaks out of the interior of the tank EVERY DAY, on average.  Only one barrier remains before it reaches the soil and starts making its way to the Colombia River.  The leaking continues.   

And there’s also this other news piece, this one from June 2, 2013 in The Seattle Times:

Will Hanford ever be cleaned up?

To quote:

“So what does all of this mean for the environment and the safety of nearby communities?

The groundwater at Hanford already is contaminated, but scientists gauge the risks to be minimal because it would take decades for contaminants already in the soil to reach the Columbia River. The closest tank sits five miles from the river, home to endangered fish and a source of drinking water for some 175,000 people immediately downstream.

“From the standpoint of worrying about an immediate hazard, we’re not there,” said Ken Niles of the Oregon Department of Energy. “But the problem is that resolving these issues at Hanford takes so long.””

Scientists gauge the risks to be minimal, and there is no IMMEDIATE hazard…  meaning…. , to translate the spin:  the risks are extreme and given the extreme difficulty of handling this kind of waste, there isn’t that much time left to prevent much worse.

Why is it so hard for the nuclear industry to be non-deceptive?

— Afterword, added June 27, 2013:

June 22, 2013 morning News over Chai:   Elevated contamination level reading in the leak detection pit outside and adjacent to the Hanford double-shell tank AY-102.

This is most disturbing news for Washington. It is not clear yet whether that contamination is coming directly from the outer shell of the AY-102 but it must be treated with the utmost seriousness” – Jay Inslee, Washington State Governor

International News:  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/us-state-on-alert-after-nuclear-waste-leak/story-fn3dxix6-1226667944412  :

US state on alert after nuclear waste leak – HEIGHTENED radioactivity levels have been found outside a nuclear waste tank in the US state of Washington, officials say, in a new alert about a site used to make Cold War-era bombs.”

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One Response to Only like “the contents of a can of soda…” – How they spin the gravity of Hanford’s leaking nuclear waste tanks…

  1. Pingback: News Roundup – November 22, 2014 | Not All Alleged Is Apparent…

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