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Nuclear cleanup plant questioned

SEATTLE, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A costly U.S. environmental project, meant to deal with millions of gallons of nuclear waste, is over budget and faces technical and safety issues, critics say.

The Department of Energy is building a facility at the Hanford, Wash., nuclear reservation to clean up 53 million gallons of radioactive waste left over from 40 years of nuclear weapons production currently stored in aging, leaking tanks, but the cost estimates have nearly tripled to $12.2 billion and its builders have yet to settle some vexing problems with the design, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.

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Some critics say they worry the final plant may be dangerous and will not be able to treat as much waste as expected, could pose environmental dangers, and might take billions of more dollars to get right.

The plant is being built even though details of the final design have yet to be worked out, they say.

The government's own tests show equipment might fail or pipes might clog in parts of the facility so radioactive with nuclear waste no human or machine could ever get in and make repairs.

"We figured out how to put a man on the moon in 10 years using slide rules," said Walt Tamosaitis, a high-level Hanford engineer who said he was removed from the project last year after raising safety concerns. "We still can't seem to get this right."

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The plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2019, a decade behind schedule.

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