Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
A national advisory panel chaired by an MIT professor has determined that one of the Department of Energy's (DOE) most dangerous sites is now safe.
The infamous "burping" tank at DOE's Hanford complex periodically released flammable hydrogen gas. In 1980 reactions inside the tank, which held radioactive waste, began to generate a flammable combination of gases. The gas became trapped in the waste, and about every three months a large amount of gas would vent inside the tank, an event that came to be known as a "burp."
To solve the problem, crews diluted and transferred more than 520,000 gallons of waste out of the tank and added 434,000 gallons of dilution water in three operations between December 1999 and March 2000. The dilution water dissolved nearly all the gas retaining solids in the tank.
A national panel led by Mujid Kazimi, the TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Engineering and director of MIT's Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, reviewed the documentation associated with this solution and concluded that the problem was solved. The DOE announced the success of the operation earlier this month.
In January 2001 the tank was officially deleted from a Congressional Watch list of potentially dangerous waste storage tanks at Hanford. It is expected to go back into service later this year.
"We have solved a problem that concerned the DOE, the regulators and the public for more than a decade," said Carolyn Huntoon, DOE's assistant secretary for environmental management. "Now we can focus more of our energy on the ultimate solution to the tank waste problem by retrieving the waste and turning it into glass."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 28, 2001.