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Advancements in Electrical Imaging for Underground Tanks

October 2014

To detect leaks in waste storage tanks and track the movement of contaminants, electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) provides remote, cost-effective 3D characterization and monitoring. But Hanford’s nuclear waste tank farms are dominated by a metallic infrastructure that interferes with ERT.

Scientists at PNNL developed the first – and currently the only – advanced high-performance computing code that models the metallic infrastructure. This allows metal objects to be removed from ERT images, giving the cleanup team unencumbered images of the subsurface contaminants.

Determining subsurface contamination and monitoring process performance has been one of the biggest technological challenges – and most costly expenditures – for remediating the subsurface environment. This technological advancement allows ERT to be effectively used in the tank farms to:

  • locate, characterize, and monitor the migration of contaminant plumes in four-dimensions
  • conduct modeling-based assessments of external tank leak detection system performance
  • design external leak detection systems to meet specified criteria (e.g. low volume chronic leak detection)
  • assist regulators and stakeholders with a visualization of subsurface contamination, empowering them with key information to decide on the remediation process.

Implementing and using this model code is projected to save DOE a total of $5 billion over the life of the tank waste project.


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