Hanford Plutonium Waste Growing Like 'The Blob'

RICHLAND, WA -- A giant underground tank of liquid radioactive waste is threatening to overflow or even explode, because of the uncontrolled growth of a mysterious "crust" that has scientists baffled. The State nuclear waste program manager Mike Wilson said lightheartedly to the New York Times, "It was 'The Blob' kind of thing." The crust is growing both upward and downward inside the five-story tall tank, and hydrogen gas created inside could eventually reach a concentration that is flammable and explosive. The production of unwanted hydrogen is the result of a failed attempt to reduce the volume of waste by adding organic chemicals.

"I'm not convinced anyone understands the chemistry and physics involved in this crust," said Don Oakley a retired Los Alamos engineer. Engineers intend to pump the waste into another tank in a dangerous operation that critics say will only cause more problems.

The 20-year-old tank, which holds more than 1.2 million gallons of waste, is one of 177 buried, single-walled bins used to store high-level radioactive liquids from 40 years of plutonium production. At least 67 of the tanks are leaking their carcinogenic contents into Hanford's groundwater, on the banks of the Columbia River.

* New York Times, Sept. 27, 1999, p.A10.