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Video: Meanwhile, at Hanford...

Ecotrope | Sept. 21, 2010 2:51 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:46 p.m.

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Here’s a demonstration of how a new Mobile Arm Retrieval System would cut through and retrieve the radioactive, peanut-buttery sludge from the bottom of nuclear waste storage tanks at the Hanford site.

The U.S. Department of Energy is in the middle of a massive effort to clean up the waste left behind by nuclear weapons manufacturing at Hanford. Among their challenges: Scraping out the hazardous sludge caked on the bottom of underground water storage tanks.

This MARS arm is designed to remove the sludge with a minimum amount of new water added – which means less radioactive water needing treatment. A vacuum system pumps the waste out once it’s been dislodged.

Last week, DOE started in on another storage tank cleaning – the 13th of 177 total tanks at the site. So far, six tanks have been completely cleaned out, five are in-process and one is nearly done but is awaiting review. Because some of the tanks have sprung leaks, cleaning out the waste stored inside has become an important priority to prevent contamination from spreading into groundwater and other water bodies.

I visited the Hanford site earlier this year and had my mind boggled by the realization that all the clean-up equipment will also have to be disposed of at a radioactive waste storage site, and that the excavators working at the disposal site were, in effect, digging their own grave.

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