Highly Radioactive Leak At Hanford Came From Spent Fuel Experiments

I recent admission that contaminated soil at the 324 Building at the Hanford National Lab site was much worse than previously estimated raised concerns this week. A ballpark conversion of the radiation level cited in the article was roughly 1,780 sieverts per hour.

How did this defunct building at Hanford end up with such radioactive soil contamination beneath it? The 324 Building housed hot labs including the B Cell. This large hot lab did various experiments including using liquified highly radioactive strontium 90 and cesium 137 extracted from high burnup spent nuclear fuel. This highly radioactive liquid was used in vitrification experiments, a technology to isolate nuclear waste. The B Cell had a history of spills, fires and equipment failures that lead to significant contamination of the facility and ground beneath it.

Hanford 324 building hot lab cell b
B Cell at Hanford National Lab’s 324 Building. Image credit US DOE.

The Department of Energy cites that the waste sump for this hot cell was found to have a breach in it that likely allowed waste to leak out of the facility. There also was a history of spills of this highly radioactive liquid extract of spent fuel.

The liquid waste pipe for this hot cell ran underground to the 325-a building another radiochemical lab building adding another potential route for leaks. More information about the contamination in the B Cell can be found here.

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