Washington Department of Ecology statement on Hanford tank farm alert

September 5, 2013 -- The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) has determined that the high radiological readings were from old contamination on a concrete block, not from a leak in equipment used to empty Tank C-101. Radiation-shielding blankets covering the block had shifted, which led to the higher readings. The area around Tank C-101 has been surveyed, and no additional contamination or exposure to the environment was found.

Though no workers were injured, USDOE is taking steps, such as improved lighting, to correct issues that contributed to this incident.

C Farm retrieval work is expected to restart soon after the contamination is covered. The Department of Ecology is encouraged that the delay in retrieving waste should be fairly brief.

August 22, 2013 -- The Department of Ecology has been closely following an incident at Hanford’s C Tank Farm since an alert was issued at 9:35 p.m. Wednesday, August 21, 2013, due to the results of routine radiological monitoring that indicated a potential leak of tank waste. The higher readings were found around a box that is part of a waste transfer system for Tank C-101. The tank farms are located in the central part of the Hanford Site.

The alert ended early this morning, and Ecology believes the incident is contained. There were no reports of injuries to workers, and the Department of Health confirmed that there is no threat to public health or the environment. We are pleased with the response from both USDOE and their contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, to address the incident quickly and provide prompt notification to the State.

Ecology is still working to learn precisely what caused the higher than normal reading, and will continue to follow up with USDOE to gather more information about this incident.

Tank C-101 is one of 7 tanks remaining to be retrieved of the 16 tanks in C Farm. Under a legally enforceable Consent Decree, USDOE is required to finish retrieving waste from all C Farm tanks by September 2014. Due to this incident, the transfer of waste from C-101 to a double-shell tank has been halted until crews are able to investigate further and ensure that it is safe to resume work. It is unknown how long this will take or how any delays may affect USDOE’s ability to meet the 2014 waste retrieval deadline.

USDOE had already notified Ecology in June that they may not be able to retrieve waste from tanks C-102 and C-105 in time to meet the 2014 deadline. We still expect the federal government to provide the State with additional information including details for the reasons for the delays, the nature of the review being undertaken by USDOE and its contractors, the environmental risks of the delay, and the recovery schedule for completion of these milestones.

For more information on Hanford tanks, please see Ecology's Tank Storage, Operations & Closure Project and Frequently Asked Questions: Leaking underground tanks at Hanford. You can also email Hanford@ecy.wa.gov or call 800-321-2008.