As you read this, roughly 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are sitting in underground tanks at the Hanford nuclear site in Eastern Washington. Some of the toxic sludge is slowly seeping into the soil, and could contaminate the Columbia River if nothing is done to fix the leak. The good news is the government is spending $12.3 billion to build a treatment plant that should address the problem. The bad news is that Bechtel Corp., the company hired to do the job, has consistently "underplayed safety risks" associated with the project and has committed to building "flawed" equipment and storage tanks.
Bechtel, the LAT reports, is under contract to build a treatment plant at Hanford that will convert millions of gallons of radioactive sludge into solid glass that, theoretically, could be "more safely buried at a future high-level waste dump." Unfortunately, the designs for the tanks and equipment that would process the sludge represent "such a massive risk that work should be stopped on that part of the construction project," according to the e-mails obtained by the LAT.
Of course, the scientists and engineers at Hanford and Bechtel who raised concerns about the flawed toxic-waste containment system have been treated like Milton from Office Space. One scientist at a Bechtel subcontractor was reportedly "put in a basement office with nothing to do" after he protested to his bosses that project was unsafe.
Two others, a senior onsite manager from the Department of Energy, and the president of the union that represents Hanford's scientists and engineers, have also spoken up about Bechtel's faulty work.
Here's more on that, via the LAT:
A series of tests with nonradioactive materials in the last year showed that the mixing system, designed to last 30 years without service, wore out in only a few months, according to McNulty and Energy Department documents.
If the mixers wear out or fail once highly radioactive material is flowing through the tanks, it would be theoretically impossible to fix the problem and could paralyze the project, the scientists say.
The tanks use pulse jet mixers, which engineers describe as giant turkey basters, to keep the sludge stirred, preventing plutonium from concentrating at the bottom and starting a chain reaction or producing explosive hydrogen gas. The pulse jet mixers have never been used in the United States, and failed in the recent tests to prevent material from building up at the bottom of tanks.
Naturally, despite all the scientists saying the "giant turkey basters" are a bad idea, Bechtel has been given a temporary go-ahead on the project from the Department of Energy. Bechtel officials, meanwhile, reportedly contend that "sticking to the current construction schedule would save money."