State looks at safety of Hanford short shipments

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 31, 2013 

The state of Washington is taking a close look at how the Department of Energy transports waste from the Hanford nuclear reservation to a nearby treatment plant, a recent inspection report indicates.

The inspection report was obtained by Hanford Challenge, and both DOE and the Washington State Department of Ecology declined to discuss the report during what the state called "an ongoing enforcement process."

The inspection report indicated that more information was being gathered.

The document, which was signed by two state employees July 8 and 11, focused on whether the public and environment are being adequately protected as waste is shipped from central Hanford to Perma-Fix Northwest, which is just off the Hanford nuclear reservation, for treatment.

About 12 miles of the route are on roads open to the public, according to the report.

DOE has been shipping waste, typically containers of debris with radioactive and hazardous chemical contamination, by what it calls a rolling road closure starting at the Wye Barricade, where public access onto Hanford is barred.

The shipments travel Route 4 South and then turn onto Battelle Boulevard in north Richland, according to the state report.

Pilot cars travel in front and back of the waste shipment truck. But the public has unrestricted access to two lanes in the opposite direction of Route 4 South, according to the report. In addition, crossroads are not controlled, according to the report.

Between 2009 and 2012 about 2.3 million pounds of hazardous waste was transported from Hanford to Perma-Fix, according to the report.

The inspection also questioned whether appropriate shipping packages were used after looking at shipments made on March 22 and 23.

The state calculated radioactivity of the drums and determined they needed to be shipped in more protective containers. They were shipped in Type A containers for radioactive materials, but their level of radioactivity required Type B containers, the report indicated.

Type B containers must meet more stringent Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements, such as surviving a fire of 1,475 degrees for 30 minutes.

The report also said that liquids were found in some packages when Perma-Fix opened them and there was damp sludge in the overpack.

"The selection of non-compliant packages to transport mixed (radioactive and chemical) waste presents a risk to human health and the environment," said the summary of the report.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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