Report finds design flaws at Washington nuclear waste facility

A team of experts warned the Department of Energy about several potential design flaws in a new Washington state nuclear waste treatment site as recently as last year, according to a leaked report. 

The 2014 study, released by a group opposed to the treatment plant, found up to 362 "significant design vulnerabilities” at the Hanford nuclear waste treatment site. 

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The shortcomings ranged from inadequate equipment design and waste control requirements to substandard safety and hygiene requirements for workers. 

A group of outside experts conducted the survey, according to the report, which was filed to the DOE. 

“Unless resolved in a timely manner, these vulnerabilities are expected to result in unacceptable risk to the overall project,” the report stated.

Hanford Challenge, a group working against the treatment facility, called the report “alarming and indicative of a safety-last culture.”

“This plant is so riddled with design, quality indeterminate, nuclear safety and worker health threats that it is hard to see how this plant could ever open without very significant and expensive rework,” Hanford Challenge Executive Director Tom Carpenter said in a statement. 

Hanford’s Low-Activity Waste Facility is designed to convert the former nuclear plant’s radioactive waste into a safer, more storable product. 

The DOE is behind the Hanford project, and an agency spokesperson has defended it in light of the report.

“The Department is committed to designing, building and safely operating” the facility," a spokeswoman told The Washington Post. She said the report was a “very early draft” and had incorrect facts.

“While the draft report has not been finalized, it does not identify any unknown major technical issues with the Low Activity Waste Facility.”

The report was leaked by an engineer working at the facility, according to Hanford Challenge. In a statement released by the group, the whistleblower said he or she is “deeply concerned about the safety culture” at the facility. 

“Some of the issues, if not resolved, will result in millions of dollars of cost to the taxpayer, and could possibly result in injuries to the future workers,” the source said. “This is simply unacceptable.”