Nuclear Waste:

DOE's Management of Single-Shell Tanks at Hanford, Washington

RCED-89-157: Published: Jul 18, 1989. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1989.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Victor S. Rezendes
(202) 512-6082
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) management of its Hanford, Washington, site's underground single-shell waste storage tanks containing radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous liquid and solid wastes from nuclear materials production.

GAO found that DOE: (1) through 1988, identified definite or possible leaks in 66 of 149 single-shell tanks, with an estimated leakage of about 750,000 gallons; (2) in 1987, completed an environmental impact statement for waste disposal, but deferred decisions until the issuance of a supplemental environmental statement in 2000; (3) signed a tripartite agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington for the removal of feasibly pumpable liquid waste from single-shell tanks by 1996 and for final disposal or removal of any such remaining waste by 2018; (4) did not collect data upon which to sufficiently base management decisions, establish program priorities, or take remedial actions; (5) lacked convincing evidence to support its assertions that the tank leaks had extremely low or nonexistent environmental impact; (6) reduced the volume of single-shell tanks' liquid waste by solidifying liquids or pumping them from tanks; (7) could further reduce the risk of future tank leaks by accelerating its liquid-pumping program and providing better ground covering in the tank farm areas; (8) cited a lack of convincing data indicating problems with accelerated movement of wastes as a reason for not placing new ground surface materials over the tank farm's gravel surface; and (9) repeatedly emphasized the production of nuclear materials to the detriment of environmental concerns.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Sampling and analysis of groundwater wells to investigate leak plumes is continuing. No estimated completion has been established, but implementation is expected.

    Recommendation: To minimize the environmental effects of tank leaks on the surrounding soil and, eventually, on the groundwater, the Secretary of Energy should conduct a data-gathering program sufficient to assess the risks and extent of groundwater contamination from tank leaks of mobile, nonradioactive contaminants and mobile, long-lived radioactive substances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Interim Stabilization Program to remove all feasibly pumpable liquids from the tanks is under way and is scheduled for completion by the end of FY 1995 for all tanks, except two; they will be pumped by the end of FY 1996. The Hanford Tri-Party Agreement milestones for FY 1991 and 1992 have been revised because of questions concerning explosive gases.

    Recommendation: To minimize the environmental effects of tank leaks on the surrounding soil and, eventually, on the groundwater, the Secretary of Energy should assign appropriate resources and priority to the single-shell tank pumping program to ensure that: (1) at a minimum, all feasibly pumpable liquid is removed from the tanks by 1996; and (2) the 1996 goal is not used to delay removal of liquid that could be pumped before 1996.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE agreed with this recommendation, but it believes that it is too early to make a decision on interim covers for the tanks. An engineering study has been completed that identifies and evaluates alternatives for covering the tanks if other studies indicate that it is necessary.

    Recommendation: To minimize the environmental effects of tank leaks on the surrounding soil and, eventually, on the groundwater, the Secretary of Energy should develop specific plans to replace the gravel surfaces at the tank farms with a less permeable material and promptly replace the gravel surfaces if ongoing studies indicate that these surfaces could promote the movement of waste toward the groundwater.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Apr 27, 2015

Apr 22, 2015

Apr 15, 2015

Mar 23, 2015

Mar 19, 2015

Mar 2, 2015

Feb 25, 2015

Dec 16, 2014

Dec 11, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here