The Department of Energy (DoE) and one of its contractors are facing a $50,000 fine for mishandling waste at Hanford’s T Plant, said officials at the Washington State Department of Ecology.
“For everyone’s safety, dangerous waste at this nuclear facility must be properly managed and stored,” said Alex Smith, Ecology’s nuclear waste program manager.
The Department of Ecology also ordered DoE and its contractor, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., to obtain detailed analysis of waste before storing it and to properly maintain records.
The waste included five containers holding leaking batteries, paint chips and concrete pieces, or grease. All the waste ended up generated at T Plant, and some of it came from floor scrapings that had the potential to include low levels of radioactive contamination.
Work conducted at T Plant, built during World War II, was to chemically separate plutonium for weapons use from uranium fuel irradiated at Hanford reactors. It stores and treats Hanford waste during environmental cleanup of the nuclear reservation.
“Our records show the contractor did identify and designate all of the waste in the five containers by November 2015, and we will be inquiring about the possibility of a miscommunication on at least one of the violations,” said DoE spokesman Mark Heeter.
DoE and its contractor must identify the waste before it was put into storage, rather than a few days after an inspection, and must have information available to inspectors within 24 hours of a request.
The state asked for records several times and based the violations on the records it received.
DoE has had trouble following the rules at T Plant in four previous inspections before the most recent inspection on Nov. 18, 2015, according to state records.
“Our inspectors have repeatedly cited Energy and its contractors for the same violations at the T Plant,” Smith said. This is the first time the state has levied a penalty.
The state Department of Ecology has hired two more inspectors since a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review in 2013 found the state needed more.
The state’s concern is if Hanford officials are not following the rules on simple wastes, like batteries, it could have more serious issues when it handles more hazardous and complex wastes.
Waste must end up analyzed and correctly labeled before it is stored — indicating if it is corrosive or can easily catch fire, for example — to keep workers safe from hazards and make sure the waste is stored correctly.