State inspectors raise multiple concerns about nuclear waste clean-up operations at the Hanford Site in reports made public Tuesday.
The reports show staff at the Washington State Deparment of Ecology documenting multiple problems at Hanford, from failure to follow safety rules for radioactive waste shipments to a haphazard response to a leak of materials at one Hanford facility.
The documents were obtained by Seattle-based Hanford Challenge under the state's open records law. In them, Ecology inspectors warn that the problems they observed could pose threats to human health and the environment.
One of the reports, written on July 8, addresses a March 2012 shipment of radioactive waste to PermaFix, a private company that helps process and prepare waste for permanent storage. The inspectors said the Department of Energy failed to classify the waste in the shipment -- with the result that insufficient packaging was used for materials that traveled through public roads in Richland.
The result was that radioactive waste was spilled within the PermaFix facility, requiring personnel there to use a jackhammer to remove a contaminated floor area.
"Improper identification, designation and packaging of mixed waste by DOE and its contractors ... has caused an imminent hazard to public health and the environment at the point of generation at Hanford, during transport on public highway, and at" PermaFix," the inspectors wrote.
An Ecology spokesperson declined to comment, saying the documents deal with ongoing enforcement actions. She said the process is expected to be complete in the "near future," at which time Ecology could choose to impose penalties on the Deparment of Energy and its contractors.
The Hanford Site was where plutonium was made for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A massive cleanup project has been underway since the late 1980s and is not expected to be complete until mid-century at a total cost of $100 billion or more. Washington Ecology and the EPA share responsibility for overseeing much of the cleanup effort.
KING 5 has reported on problems with waste shipments to PermaFix in Richland, most recently in June when contamination was detected on equipment at the facility. In May, KING 5 reported that the Department of Energy and its contractors were using parade permits to get permission to transport radioactive debris through the streets of Richland. Such permits require far less stringent safety measures.