Radioactive contamination is spreading inside a deteriorating processing plant at the US’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which was last used in the 1950s and 1960s to process plutonium for the weapons programme, Associated press reported on 3 January. The Tri-City Herald newspaper reported that the facility, known as REDOX, is located deep within the heavily guarded Hanford site, and the contamination poses no threat to the general public.
A new report by the US Department of Energy, which owns Hanford, recommends spending $181m on interim cleanup and maintenance of the abandoned plant. REDOX is not scheduled to be demolished until about 2032, or possibly later. The report said doing some work on the building soon could reduce the threat of contamination spreading is animals get inside or a fire breaks out in the building or its utility pipes break. The report said annual inspections of the highly contaminated plant from 2012-15 found that radioactive contamination was spreading, including by precipitation that leaked into the building through its roof and joints. Signs of animal intrusion and deteriorating asbestos were also found in several areas.
REDOX was used from 1952-1967 to process about 24,000t of irradiated uranium fuel rods to remove plutonium for use in weapons. No one has entered the main part of the plant since 1997. Contamination could be slowed and contained by demolishing a contaminated nearby building plus the main plant's attached annexes, the report said. Two underground storage tanks that contained the chemical hexone should also be removed, the report said. The report suggested that work to limit the spread of contamination would help officials retain workers with experience in decommissioning nuclear facilities at Hanford, who will be needed as more federal money becomes available in future for environmental cleanup.