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Nuclear Dump in Washington Leaking Radioactive Waste

Repeated calls to address problems at facility 'met with silence' by state and federal officials

- Common Dreams Staff

Reports that a storage tank for nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear facility in Washington state--one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in the country--is leaking radioactive waste were confirmed that state's governor Friday.

The Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility is seen at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation June 30, 2005 near Richland, Washington. (Photo by Jeff T. Green/Getty Images) As the Associated Press reports:

The news raises concerns about the integrity of similar tanks at south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation and puts added pressure on the federal government to resolve construction problems with the plant being built to alleviate environmental and safety risks from the waste.

The tanks, which are already long past their intended 20-year life span, hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy said liquid levels are decreasing in one of 177 underground tanks at the site. Monitoring wells near the tank have not detected higher radiation levels, but Inslee said the leak could be in the range of 150 gallons to 300 gallons over the course of a year and poses a potential long-term threat to groundwater and rivers.

The Northwest News Network, in an interview with Tom Carpenter, head of the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge, found that Friday’s news highlights the fact that problems have been endemic to the site for years and there's not even a place to transfer the contained waste or a place to return any that may be recovered from spills or leaks.

“If you have another leak, what do you do?," ask Carpenter.  "You don’t have any strategy for that. And the Hanford Advisory Board and the state of Washington and Hanford Challenge and others have been calling upon the Department of Energy to build new tanks. That call has been met with silence.”

And the Chicago Tribune adds:

Though more than a third of the 149 old single-shell tanks at the site are suspected to have leaked up to 1 million gallons of nuclear waste over the years, this is the first confirmed leak since federal authorities completed a so-called stabilization program in 2005 that was supposed to have removed most liquids from the vulnerable single-shell tanks.

The new leak calls into question the effectiveness of that program, and state officials said it increased the urgency of ending roadblocks to a permanent storage solution for the 53 million gallons of waste housed at the sprawling site that was a center for atomic bomb-making material after World War II.