The geology and hydrology of radioactive solid waste burial grounds at the Hanford Reservation were investigated, using existing data, by the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the waste management plan of the Richland Operations Office of the Energy Research and Development Administration. The purpose of the investigation was to assist the operations office in characterizing the burial sites as to present environmental safety and as to their suitability for long-term storage (several thousand to tens of thousands of years) of radioactive sol id wastes.
The burial ground sites fall into two classifications: (1) those on the low stream terraces adjacent to the Columbia River, mainly in the 100 Areas and 300 Area, and (2) those lying on the high terraces south of Gable Mountain in the 200 Areas. Evaluation of the suitability of the burial grounds for long-term storage was made almost entirely on hydrologic, geologic, and topographic criteria. Of greatest concern was the possibility that radionuclides might be leached from the buried wastes by infiltrating water and carried downward to the water table. The climate is semi-arid and the average annual precipitation is 6.4 inches at the Hanford Meteorological Station. However, the precipitation is seasonally distributed with about 50 percent occurring during the months of November, December, January, and February when evapotranspiration is negligible and conditions for infiltration are most favorable. None of the burial grounds are instrumented with monitoring devices that could be used to determine if radionuclides derived from them are reaching the water table.
Burial grounds on the low stream terraces are mainly underlain by permeable materials and the water table lies at relatively shallow depths. Radionuclides conceivably could be leached from these burial grounds by percolating soil water, and radionuclides might reach the Columbia River in a relatively short time. These sites could also be inundated by erosion during a catastrophic flood. For these reasons, they are judged to be unsuited for long-term storage. Local conditions at several of these burial grounds are particularly unfavorable from the standpoint of safety. Depressions and swales at some burial grounds, such as numbers 4 and 5 in the 300 Area in which runoff can collect, enhance the possibility of water infiltrating through the buried wastes and transporting radionuclides to the water table. Also, during a high stage of the Columbia River, the water table conceivably could rise into burial grounds l and 2 of the 100 F Area. Most of the burial grounds on the low terraces contain either (1) reactor components and related equipment bearing activation products, principally cobalt-60, or (2) less hazardous radioactive materials such as uranium. The inventory of activation products in these burial grounds will decay to a safe level in a relatively short period of time (about 100 years), according to estimates made by C. D. Corbit, Douglas United Nuclear, Inc., 1969. The inventory of radionuclides is not considered by the ERDA staff to be complete, however. At these burial grounds containing activation products or less hazardous materials, investigations should be made of the radioactivity in soil and ground water beneath selected representative sites to verify that radionuclides are not migrating from the burial grounds. If migration is detected, field investigations should be made to determine the source or sources of the radionuclides and the desirability of removing the source wastes. Other burial grounds on the low terraces contain plutonium and fission products, which require long-term storage. Both the 300 WYE and the 300 North burial grounds are reported to contain plutonium in large quantities. Burial ground no. l in the 300 Area reportedly also contains plutonium. The inventory records of any other burial grounds on the low terraces suspected of containing plutonium should be reviewed to determine if pl