The Department of Energy and a Hanford contractor are appealing a fine and order issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology over a suspicious white powder found at Hanford’s PUREX processing plant.
On Aug. 31, the state agency issued a $16,000 fine, saying nothing had been done to identify or clean up a white powder that CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. found on the floor and equipment in the defunct processing plant in May 2015. It was observed again in an inspection of the plant the next year.
DOE is arguing that the Department of Ecology’s regulatory authority at the Hanford nuclear reservation does not extend to the white powder. The powder is a Superfund site issue, which would fall under the regulation of the Environmental Protection Agency, it says.
But the Department of Ecology believes it has authority, as the sitewide Hanford Dangerous Waste Permit covers the entire 580-square-mile nuclear reservation, said John Price, the Department of Ecology’s Tri-Party Agreement section manager.
In addition, the Department of Ecology has authority over hundreds of companies and other entities in the state that generate hazardous waste, including Hanford, Price said. The state regulates how the waste is managed, Price said.
Oct. 31 original deadline to determine if white powder is hazardous
Nov. 15 deadline to have plan to recover white powder if it is hazardous
Jan. 29 deadline to recover white powder if it is hazardous
DOE and CH2M originally were required to collect some of the white powder within the former processing plant by the end of October.
However, DOE sent a letter to the Department of Ecology on Oct. 5, saying it needed more time to collect the sample, ship it to a lab for analysis and get the results. Careful planning is required for each entry into the radioactively contaminated plant, with workers wearing supplied air respirators.
The state agency agreed to extend the deadline until Nov. 30 for identifying multiple samples.
Hanford officials had initially planned to sample the white powder in just one location, but now have agreed to sample in multiple spots.
The order issued Aug. 31 had additional deadlines should the white powder be determined to be a hazardous material. A plan is due Nov. 15 on how the powder would be cleaned up if it is hazardous and the cleanup would need to be done by Jan. 29.
DOE has told the Department of Ecology that it will discuss the next steps if the powder turns out to be hazardous. The Nov. 15 and Jan. 29 deadlines have not been extended at this time.
The order remains in effect pending a decision by the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
If this powder is a dangerous waste, it’s important to clean it up before it spreads further.
John Price, Department of Ecology’s Tri-Party Agreement section manager
The Department of Ecology issued a fine and an order for sampling and possible cleanup of the powder after state officials said they had tried for more than a year to get the powder identified.
“If this powder is a dangerous waste, it’s important to clean it up before it spreads further,” Price said in August. “We want to avoid delays that cause a bigger cleanup with increased worker risks and higher costs.”
The PUREX plant was closed down in the 1980s after producing a substantial portion of the plutonium used in the nation’s nuclear weapons program. It chemically separated plutonium from uranium fuel irradiated at Hanford reactors.
The plant is adjacent to the radioactive waste tunnel found partially collapsed in May, but the white powder is unrelated to the tunnel collapse.
A white powder also was found in another of Hanford’s closed processing plants, REDOX, in late 2012.
The powder was sampled and determined to be sodium chloride, or salt, used to neutralize the processing system after it was shut down in 1967.
According to a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff report, the salt appeared to be corroding through the stainless steel process piping.