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Where does stored nuclear waste go?
Date:1/3/2008

Millions of gallons of hazardous waste resulting from the nations nuclear weapons program lie in a remote location in southeastern Washington state called Hanford. Beneath this desert landscape about two million curies of radioactivity and hundreds of thousands of tons of chemicals are captured within the stratified vadose zone below which gives rise to complex subsurface flow paths. These paths create uncertainties about where the contaminants go and what happens to them. With the mighty Columbia River bordering much of the site, where these nuclear wastes migrate, their composition and how fast they are traveling are of vital importance to both people and the environment.

The November issue of Vadose Zone Journal features a series of papers addressing the mysteries within the vadose zone beneath Hanford. The series outlines scientific work funded by the Department of Energy and carried out by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and contributing associates with other national laboratories, universities and contractors.

The detailed series outlines how researchers have investigated Hanfords vadose zone to better understand the migration of these contaminants, ultimately reducing or stemming their flow toward the Columbia River, thereby protecting the river and the people living downstream. By studying the geologic, biologic, geochemical and hydrologic conditions at the Hanford site, the researchers seek to understand and manipulate the factors that control contaminants fate and transport.

To date, studies show that fine-grained sediment layers along with rain, snowfall and other climatic conditions affect contaminant transport. For three decades, scientists have studied what happens when water enters and exits the soil, particularly how it affects the movement of the contaminants under various conditions.

Understanding how hydrology and chemistry are interacting below the land surface in the v
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Contact: Sara Uttech
suttech@soils.org
608-268-4948
Soil Science Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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