HANFORD, WA. -- The Department of Energy is preparing to start cleaning up what they're calling a "significant" leak of radioactive waste in one of their double shelled tanks.
This is the same tank where DOE officials discovered a leak back in 2012. Workers started pumping the AY 102 tank back in March to move radioactive waste to another double shelled tank.
For comparison, over the last 3-years the tank has leaked 70 gallons. This weekend, an estimated 3,000 gallons of radioactive waste leaked from the inner shell to the outer shell. But DOE says they prepared for this.
Sunday morning, an alarm sounded during pumping of the underground AY 102 double shelled tank. Crews have been in the process of pumping 800,000 gallons of radioactive waste from the tank for over a month and were about 95% complete when they heard the alarm indicating a leak into the outer shell.
Carrie Meyer, the Director of Communications for the Department of Energy's Office of River Protection, says the Department of Energy expected to possibly encounter a problem around this time in the pumping.
"When you get to the bottom of the tank you're really dealing with the more solid waste, the sludge waste," Meyer said. "And as you move it around, you're potentially opening up your leak area."
The level of waste in the bottom of the outer shell rose 8 inches, then dropped about 3/4 of an inch. Meyer says the tests they've run do not indicate the waste is leaking into the ground or air.
"We have no indications that that has happened," Meyer said. "We are going to continue and will continue taking that monitoring. We will continue to check out detection pits."
Department of Energy says they prepared for something like this. They're getting ready to pump as much of the 3,000 gallons out of the outer shell as possible from a pump that was already installed for just this reason.
"The safety of our workforce and the public is a priority for the department and it's contractors," Meyer told us. "We take that into consideration when we're planning and conducting any of our work. Our workforce right now are wearing what we call self contained breathing apparatus which allows them another level of protection."
The pumping of the outer shell could begin as soon as later tonight.
The Department of Energy is checking a leak detection pit below the tank and testing air samples every four hours for radiation. There are 28 double shelled tanks at the Hanford Site. This is the only one where a leak has been discovered.
HANFORD, WA. -- Washington River Protection Solutions confirms what they are calling a "significant" leak of radioactive waste in one of their double shelled tanks. Officials estimate 3,000 gallons of radioactive waste has leaked from tank AY-102, raising the level of waste in the outer shell by 8 inches.
WRPS observed an initial leak in the double shelled tank back in 2012. Over the last 3 years, 70 gallons of waste leaked into the space between the first and second shells. Officials believe the waste is coming from that initial leak. They admit the tank might still be leaking.
So far there has been no indication that any waste has leaked into the ground. The waste level has dropped about 3/4 of an inch since it was first observed. It's unclear why the level dropped. Officials from WRPS are checking the leak detection pit below the tank and taking air samples every 4 hours. None of the tests have indicated a leak into the area outside the second shell.
WRPS began pumping nearly 750,000 gallons of radioactive waste from inside the first shell of the tank on March 3rd. Pumping was 95% complete when an alarm went off Sunday. Officials say this was an outcome they prepared for and are taking steps to begin pumping the waste from the outer shell. The plan is to pump as much of the 3,000 gallons that leaked into the outer shell and put it back into the main tank.
Pumping of the outer shell could begin sometime on Monday.