State evaluates options for Hanford tanks

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Online reservations available for B Reactor tours at Hanford

The Oregonian

Online registration for tours of the B Reactor at Hanford opens Saturday at noon.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the tour reservation process for the Hanford Site at Richland.

B Reactor is a National Historic Landmark. It produced plutonium for early nuclear bombs. Families with children older than 12, along with middle schools and high schools, are invited to sign up for the coveted tour slots.

A portion of tour slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis through an online registration system or by calling 509-376-1647 or stopping by the B Reactor Tour Headquarters located at 2000 Logston Blvd. in Richland off Hwy. 240.

Tours begin and end from this location and are about four and a half hours. The tours are free and visitors are encouraged to bring cameras. Citizens from all countries are welcome on the B Reactor tours.

In addition to the open public tours, DOE is also planning 43 group tours and 20 school tours during the 2013 season. Those can be reserved by calling the B Reactor Tour HQ at 509-376-1647.

Children between the ages of 12-17 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on the tour.

Tour Dates and Times:

Tours will begin at 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on the following dates: April 1, 2, 3, 6, 15, 16, 18, 20, 29 and 30; May 1, 4, 14, 28, and 29; June 8, 11, 12, 24, 25 and 26; July 8, 9, 10, 22, 23, 24 and 27; August 5, 6, 7, 19, 20, 21 and 24; and September 3, 4, 16, 17, 18 and 21.

OLYMPIA — Officials at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site are considering a number of options to deal with six leaking waste tanks there, including covers over the tanks to prevent rainfall from getting into them, a state official told lawmakers Thursday.

Two such covers already have been installed over tank farms at the Hanford nuclear reservation, and they have remarkably decreased the amount of moisture around the tanks, according to Jane Hedges of the Washington state Department of Ecology.

In the meantime, Hedges said, state and federal officials are still evaluating their options for controlling the leaks.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

Today, the most vexing task in a cleanup that's expected to last decades -- the removal of millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste from 177 aging, underground tanks, many of which are known to have leaked in the past. Workers have removed all liquids that could be pumped out from the tanks and reported them as stabilized in 2005.

But last week, state and federal officials announced that six tanks are now leaking. The tanks hold a toxic and radioactive stew of waste left from decades of plutonium production for U.S. nuclear weapons.

Hedges testified before a work session of the state Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. Under questioning from committee members, she stressed that the leaks pose no immediate threat to public safety or the environment.

The tanks sit several feet above the groundwater table, and it would take decades for the waste to reach it, she said. In addition, four of the six tanks in question sit 8 miles from the Columbia River, while the remaining two tanks sit 5 miles from the river.

"There is no risk to our agriculture community, to irrigated farmland, no risk to the river, the people in the Tri-Cities who get their drinking water from the river," she said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have called for additional tanks to be installed to transfer waste out of leaking tanks.

The cost for one, double-walled tank is estimated at between $150 million and $500 million, Hedges said.

The federal government already spends about $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup -- one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally.