Questions Remain About Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant's Mixing Tanks

Mar 23, 2012

KENNEWICK, Wash. – The massive factory being built to treat radioactive sludge at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has serious design problems, especially with huge mixing containers meant to treat that waste. That’s according to testimony by top Department of Energy officials and federal contractors at a hearing in Kennewick Thursday night. Correspondent Anna King was there.

The federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board came to Kennewick to listen to concerns about Hanford’s waste treatment plant. One of the major worries is that the plant won’t be able to mix and treat the radioactive sludge well enough. Gary Brunson is the federal director of engineering on the project. He testified that even now too little is known about the actual waste, and that questions remain about mechanisms designed to mix that waste -- he calls them chandeliers.

Brunson: “I think it’s going to be a tremendous challenge. One of the things we haven’t addressed yet in the non-Newtonian vessels is in essence we have a chandelier assembly and we haven’t addressed yet how to get the solids off the chandelier yet.”

What Brunson is saying there is that heavier particles like plutonium might settle within parts of the chandelier. Engineers have said that could lead to dangerous buildups and could cause uncontrolled nuclear reactions. The treatment plant is projected to come on line in 2019.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio