April 19, 2016

Wyden Demands U.S. Energy Department Response to Discovery of Hanford Tank Leak

Washington, DC --  Sen. Ron Wyden today demanded the U.S. Energy Department establish an independent panel to monitor and report on an already damaged high-level waste tank and to re-assess the risks associated with the remaining double shell-tanks at the Hanford Reservation.

Wyden’s letter to Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz follows in the wake of reports that Hanford workers on Sunday detected an unexpectedly large amount of waste in an outer tank while retrieving high-level waste from a leaking double-shell high-level waste tank (AY-102) at the reservation.

The exact cause of this troubling event is unknown, and Wyden said the incident underscores his long-time skepticism that the Energy Department has a good handle on why this tank was leaking in the first place.

“To make matters worse, the level of waste measured in the outer tank has begun to decrease suggesting that there are unexpected leaks or pathways in the outer tank,” Wyden wrote.  “It goes without saying that citizens in Oregon and I are concerned about this situation especially given the fact that previous analyses of this tank and other double-shell tanks, have raised numerous design and construction concerns and the exact cause of the original AY-102 leaks has never been determined.  

“I am therefore asking you to immediately convene an independent panel to monitor the existing conditions and risks from retrieval operations at AY-102 and to re-assess the safety risks associated with remaining double-shell tanks,” Wyden wrote.

Tanks AY-101 and AY-102 were the first of the next-generation of double-shell tanks built at Hanford to provide for long-term storage of high-level waste with a much greater level of safety than the single-shell tanks previously used.   However, these tanks had already surpassed their 40-year design life, when leaks were detected in AY-102.  

The cause of these leaks has never been determined and Wyden noted more than two years ago in a Feb. 28, 2014 letter to the Energy Department that engineering analyses of AY-102 and other double-shell tanks identified multiple construction flaws which could compromise the safety of these tanks.