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Title: Hanford's Battle with Nuclear Waste Tank SY-101: Bubbles, Toils, and Troubles

Abstract

Radioactive waste tank SY-101 is one of 177 big underground tanks that store waste from decades of plutonium production at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in central Washington State. The chemical reactions and radioactivity in all the tanks make bubbles of flammable gas, mainly hydrogen along with a little methane and ammonia. But SY-101 was the most potent gas producer of all. Every few months the gas built up in the million gallons of extra-thick slurry until it suddenly came up in great rushing ''burps''. A few of the tank's larger burps let off enough gas to make the air space at the top of the tank flammable for a few hours. This flammable gas hazard became a dominating force in DOE nuclear waste management politics in the last two decades of the 20th century. It demanded the toil of scientists, managers, and officials from the time it was filled in 1980, until it was finally declared safe in January 2001. The tank seemed almost a personality--acting with violence and apparent malice, hiding information about itself, deceiving us with false indications, and sometimes lulling us into complacency only to attack in a new way. From 1990 through 1993, SY-101's flammable gasmore » troubles were acknowledged as the highest priority safety issue in the entire DOE complex. Uncontrolled crust growth demanded another high-priority remedial effort from 1998 through April 2000. The direct cost of the bubbles, toils, and troubles was high. Overall, the price of dealing with the real and imagined hazards in SY-101 may have reached $250 million. The indirect cost was also high. Spending all this money fighting SY-101?s safety issues only stirred radioactive waste up and moved it around, but accomplished no cleanup whatever. Worse yet, the flammable gas problem spawned suspicions of a much wider danger that impeded and complicated cleanup in other 176 waste tanks for a decade. The real cleanup job has yet to be done. The SY-101 story is really about the collective experience of people, from pervasive misconception to grand insight, near miss to sweeping success, meddling interference to close teamwork, all on an uncommonly large scale. It was a necessary catharsis that transformed the entire Hanford culture from a closed defense production operation to an open environmental cleanup project. Its tight project discipline and close teamwork became the Hanford standard. The final remediation of SY-101 placed second in an international ''project of the year'' competition. Many consider SY-101 work the peak of their careers and measure all other experience by it. SY-101 defines some of the worst and the best of Hanford history. This book attempts to narrate and explain the whole vast story.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
892228
Report Number(s):
PNNL-SA-43778
TRN: US0605568
DOE Contract Number:  
AC05-76RL01830
Resource Type:
Book
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
03 NATURAL GAS; 08 HYDROGEN; 12 MANAGEMENT OF RADIOACTIVE WASTES, AND NON-RADIOACTIVE WASTES FROM NUCLEAR FACILITIES; AMMONIA; BUBBLES; CHEMICAL REACTIONS; HYDROGEN; MANAGEMENT; METHANE; PLUTONIUM; PRICES; PRODUCTION; RADIOACTIVE WASTES; RADIOACTIVITY; SAFETY; TANKS; WASTES; Hanford site; radioactive waste; underground waste tanks; SY-101; flammable gas

Citation Formats

Stewart, Charles W. Hanford's Battle with Nuclear Waste Tank SY-101: Bubbles, Toils, and Troubles. United States: N. p., 2006. Web.
Stewart, Charles W. Hanford's Battle with Nuclear Waste Tank SY-101: Bubbles, Toils, and Troubles. United States.
Stewart, Charles W. 2006. "Hanford's Battle with Nuclear Waste Tank SY-101: Bubbles, Toils, and Troubles". United States.
@article{osti_892228,
title = {Hanford's Battle with Nuclear Waste Tank SY-101: Bubbles, Toils, and Troubles},
author = {Stewart, Charles W},
abstractNote = {Radioactive waste tank SY-101 is one of 177 big underground tanks that store waste from decades of plutonium production at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in central Washington State. The chemical reactions and radioactivity in all the tanks make bubbles of flammable gas, mainly hydrogen along with a little methane and ammonia. But SY-101 was the most potent gas producer of all. Every few months the gas built up in the million gallons of extra-thick slurry until it suddenly came up in great rushing ''burps''. A few of the tank's larger burps let off enough gas to make the air space at the top of the tank flammable for a few hours. This flammable gas hazard became a dominating force in DOE nuclear waste management politics in the last two decades of the 20th century. It demanded the toil of scientists, managers, and officials from the time it was filled in 1980, until it was finally declared safe in January 2001. The tank seemed almost a personality--acting with violence and apparent malice, hiding information about itself, deceiving us with false indications, and sometimes lulling us into complacency only to attack in a new way. From 1990 through 1993, SY-101's flammable gas troubles were acknowledged as the highest priority safety issue in the entire DOE complex. Uncontrolled crust growth demanded another high-priority remedial effort from 1998 through April 2000. The direct cost of the bubbles, toils, and troubles was high. Overall, the price of dealing with the real and imagined hazards in SY-101 may have reached $250 million. The indirect cost was also high. Spending all this money fighting SY-101?s safety issues only stirred radioactive waste up and moved it around, but accomplished no cleanup whatever. Worse yet, the flammable gas problem spawned suspicions of a much wider danger that impeded and complicated cleanup in other 176 waste tanks for a decade. The real cleanup job has yet to be done. The SY-101 story is really about the collective experience of people, from pervasive misconception to grand insight, near miss to sweeping success, meddling interference to close teamwork, all on an uncommonly large scale. It was a necessary catharsis that transformed the entire Hanford culture from a closed defense production operation to an open environmental cleanup project. Its tight project discipline and close teamwork became the Hanford standard. The final remediation of SY-101 placed second in an international ''project of the year'' competition. Many consider SY-101 work the peak of their careers and measure all other experience by it. SY-101 defines some of the worst and the best of Hanford history. This book attempts to narrate and explain the whole vast story.},
doi = {},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/892228}, journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {2006},
month = {6}
}

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