The following is a letter that I sent to Dingell and 17 other congressmen.  I have never so much as received a phone call about it.  Russ

15 September 2008

Congressman John Dingell
2328 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

 Dear Congressman Dingell:

 Re: Hanford Nuclear Waste Site in Richland, Washington

             The United States is building the greatest engineering failure in the history of the world.  It is being built in Richland, Washington and is called the Hanford / River Protection Project.  It is currently scheduled to be finished construction in 2019 and the final vitrification of the tank materials in 2037.  Who is kidding whom?  All previous schedules and cost budgets have been exceeded. 

             This project is a national tragedy.  The bottom line is that the Vitrification plant for the Hanford Project will not work due to fundamental misjudgment in the basic process and the tremendous complexity of the current approach.  Coupled with this are innumerable complexities in DOE procedure such as Design Change Notices (DCN) or Engineering Design Reviews (EDR).   The real tragedy is not the billions that will be spent in futility but that a realistic and simple process will not be explored till the failure of the present process takes place and the truth becomes obvious to all.  The rule of all successful engineering design is “Keep It Simple Stupid” (KISS).  This rule is not being followed and failure of the project is assured. 

            While “diversity” is lauded in this society, the truth of the matter is that it is a curse and not a benefit.  There is nothing so diverse as trash!  The wastes at Hanford comprise of every natural element known to man.  Hanford is the ultimate example of diversity.   The solution to this problem is sufficient time because after enough time takes place the radioactive nuclides become non-radioactive.

            A few of the basics.  The Pretreatment Facility (PTF) plant is designed to separate so called High Level Waste (HLW) from Low Activity Waste (LAW).  Why one is called “level” and the other is called “activity “ -- I do not know because they are both radioactive and dangerous.   The PTF employs the concept of a Black Cell that is expected to operate for 40 years without any maintenance.  This is ludicrous.  Nothing in industry lasts for over 25 years, even with maintenance and the absence of radioactivity.

            It is presumed that glass or a vitrification process is necessary to immobilize the radioactive waste for eternity.  This is over design to say the least.  As long as the waste is in a vessel for say 300 years the waste will become much less dangerous, possibly being able to be disposed as mine tailings.     If there is a concern with criticality then Boron as borax can be added to the storage vessel and mixed with the water and the radioactive solids.  20 Mule team borax will do as the borax does not have to be pure, just neutron absorbing.  Boron has a high nuclear cross sectional area, called barns, that absorbs neutrons and converts their kinetic energy into heat.  In fact there are two systems CNP and CXP devoted to the separation of Cesium from other waste.

             Special attention has been given to the Cesium (Cs) 137.  Cesium 137 is radioactive and a gamma ray emitter but so are many other nuclides.  I can not understand any rational reason for its unique handling.  Cesium 137 has a half life of about 30 years.   If Cs 137 could be stored for say 300 years or 10 half lives, its radioactivity would be about one ten thousandth (2 to the minus 10th power) of its original.  While not baby food, certainly it could then be handled as a non-radioactive component.

             The fundamental problem is that we have about 50 or so tanks filled with millions of gallons of water and various radioactive materials.  Some of the materials are thixotropic and hard to handle.  The problem is that the radioactive material must be put into a secure place where it will not contaminate the soil or the aquifer.   The radioactive materials break down the water into hydrogen and oxygen gasses.  The hydrogen gas is explosive and must be removed from the tanks and vented to the atmosphere.  The oxygen gas helps accelerate the corrosion of the tanks, especially any which are made from carbon steel.

            The current alleged solution is one which was proposed by Westinghouse and adopted by BNFL and the DOE.  This approach is to use a very complex chemical solution including distillation, absorption,  precipitation and ion exchange etc. to separate the various radioactive wastes into various groups.   The PTF is the plant that accomplishes this initial separation.   The concept is similar to separating the bottles, paper, plastics, cans etc.  from each other at a trash dump.  The concept is essentially technically impossible,  costly, time consuming, dangerous due to the complexity and in my opinion due to the extreme complexity, ultimately will not work.

             A possible solution is to use a physical process to affect a physical solution.   It is not beyond reason to build containers say of 316 (stainless steel) SS that will hold a solid radioactive mix for 300 years.   After all there are many buildings in Rome and Athens which have survived for over 2000 years.

            I suggest a physical solution to a physical problem that complies with the KISS principle.     The water and solids in the existing tanks could be pumped to new stainless steel (SS) vessels that would be able to withstand a vacuum.   Using steam jet eduction the water would be evaporated from the SS vessels.  If necessary the vessels could be heated to speed up the evaporation and separation of the water from the solids.  After the water has been evaporated a new mix of water and solids is pumped to the vessel, the water evaporated till the vessel is full of solids.  Then the vessel is bolted or welded shut and moved to its storage area.  The evaporated water including any petroleum based solvents is handled separately as in any chemical plant.  Even if there is some radioactivity in the water, it will be minimal.  The water could be filtered and subject to chemical processes before being discharged to the air or to the river.  Once the water is removed from the solids the hydrogen generation feature would also be solved.
This solution would be superior for the following reasons:

immensely simpler to design and construct
faster to design and construct
easier to operate due to simplicity
lack of additional chemicals such as nitric acid
safer due to fewer parts
the radioactive materials will be more contained and not be distributed through a complex chemical plant

             The design of the PTF uses computers extensively.  I assume the main reason is to track and record who makes any change or decision.  This is the hard way to do anything.  Every change has to be entered via a computer program.   This process for line and equipment lists is very cumbersome and time consuming.     The Bechtel Project number 24590 has to be entered at least one million times.  This is the only project that the group is working on yet the project number has to be used for all equipment and line lists on a program called Component Information System (CIS).  This is just one small example of why the project will cost so much, even if it would work.  

            Process flow diagrams (PFD) typically show process information such as mass flow rates, temperatures, pressures etc.  There is no process information on an assumed 100 process flow diagrams.  Engineers are spending their time not really having any idea what the flow, temperature or composition of any stream is.  While any piece of information is ultimately available, it is very difficult to find anything.   I have never been anywhere else in my entire life where the PFD’s did not show process information.  The PFD’s are essentially piping diagrams.
            One of the project buzz words that is used very frequently is “Quality”.  Allegedly everything is so well designed and constructed that no accidents will ever take place.   The concept is false.  Project management makes a big deal about “quality” even having special procedures for “quality” versus commercial material (CM).  The concept is false because items not flagged as quality must of necessity be non-quality.   The concept is ludicrous.  The amount of paper and procedures used to justify the concept of “quality” is beyond belief.  They just don’t kill trees, they decimate forests with the amount of paper used on that project. 

            The reason why there will not be “quality“ on this project is because of the complexity and the literally probably one million parts.  Each part, whether it is a hose, fitting, nozzle, orifice, pipe, pump, control etc. has a finite chance of failing.   Something is going to go wrong, and there is no way to fix or repair it especially if it is in one of the black cells during the alleged 40 year life.

            The other buzz word used on the project is “Safety”.   This has got to be a bigger farce than quality.  This project will take radioactive material and distribute it through thousands of pipes, tanks, vessels and pumps not to mention controls, nozzles etc.   Instead of containing the radioactivity they are just distributing it.   Every place radioactive material exists is a place for a potential problem.   The plant itself is a contradiction of the project.  The purpose of the project is to separate and confine.  The plant distributes radioactive materials over a large area and thousands of pipes etc.  There is a finite possibility of any item, whether it is a pipe, pump, vessel etc. failing.  The more items the greater chance of failure and lack of safety.   As an example Nitric Acid in the CNP system  is used to wash radio active material from certain pipes or vessels.  We not only have radioactive danger but we also have danger from strong acid.

            We have lived to see the Titanic, Challenger Rocket, New Orleans Levees and Hubble Telescope failures.  Thousands of engineers allegedly approved all of these designs.  Someone failed to challenge the designs or was afraid to speak up or was simply paid off.  Roger Boisjoly tried to prevent the Challenger disaster and after being ignored ultimately resigned after rejection by management and his co workers. 

             Privately many engineers told me that they agreed with my analysis that the facility would probably never be designed due to the complexity and difficulty of doing anything, never be built to for the same reason and ultimately impossible to operate due to the complexity.  I have to say that my assignment at Hanford was the most financially remunerative  job that I ever had in my entire life.  I was allowed minimum of 5 hours a week of overtime, I was also paid for meals, an apartment and for a car.  While I do not know the salary of anyone else on this project, I assume that other salaries were commensurate in order to keep people on this project.  Many other people received authorization for 10 and 20 hours per week of overtime.

             The fact of the matter is that many engineers on this project own homes and make their lives in the Tri-Cities.  They have a vested interest in staying employed and being stable in their environment.  They are not going to speak out because they have too much to lose.  The major contractors Bechtel, Fluor, CH2MHILL etc. are receiving millions for their “work” and they are not going to threaten their profits.  The DOE is never going to admit that this project will not work.  They all hope to have been comfortably retired for years when the inevitable truth becomes known.  The Senators and congressmen in Washington State, regardless of party, are using the Hanford project to win votes for themselves at the expense of the  American taxpayer.  There is no doubt in my mind that Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are as useless as tits on a boar hog, to use a southern expression.  They would not know entropy or emissivity from enthalpy but they are experts on emotion.    Doc Hastings only knows how to get funds for the project while ignoring the long term health consequences to his constituents due to its failure.  During the time I was at Richland, I met three women who had their thyroids removed.   We can only speculate on the ultimate cause.

             I did not work on the “melter”.  I did see plans and pictures of the putative melter.  The complexity is unbelievable.  The melter is where the radioactive material is mixed with the silica, electrically heated and radio active glass is produced.  The melter has items called “jumpers”.   A “jumper” is some kind of a pipe-type connection that can be remotely connected and disconnected.   I am not an expert on this subject but again the complexity of these items is mind boggling.   Would you believe that common sugar (sucrose) is also used to prevent foaming?  Again the complexity of everything is unbelievable. 

             According to current published data the construction of this $12.2 billion facility will be expected to be finished in 2019 and by 2037 all of the radioactive material will be processed.  Obviously time is not of the essence.  Does anyone really believe that currently spilled radioactive waste in the ground and possibly the aquifer, will restrain itself from entering the Columbia river till 2019?  The history of this project is continually slipping project schedules and increases in projected costs.  This project is better at extracting wealth than any gold mine in the history of man.  It should be remembered that all environmental projects  create no wealth – this one included.

             Management has instituted a Schedule Recovery Plan.  Apparently some schedule has slipped, as all prior schedules have done, and management has assigned the latest piece of fiction to the Land of the Wizzard of Oz.  The schedule is a symptom and not a cause.  The cause(s) are not going to change and consequently the symptoms are not going to change either.  The Schedule Recovery Plan is pure fiction.    
            This project proclaims that it has extensive Training courses.  The only problem is that all of these courses are only useful to the DOE proscribed procedures and Bechtel computer programs.  This training is utterly useless anywhere else in the world.

            Additional chemicals such as nitric acid anti foaming agent strontium nitrate sodium permanganate are used that need to be ultimately disposed of.
             I graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1964.  I have practiced both Mechanical and Chemical engineering for over 40 years.  I became a Professional Engineer in 1972. 

Sincerely yours,

Russell Walker