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Radioactive Sludge Continues to Leak at Nuclear Site, Posing 'Unacceptable Threat'

Senator, governor, environmental groups sound alarm as environmental disaster looms

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

As radioactive sludge continues to leak from a storage tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, one senator is slamming the site for posing "unacceptable threat" to the public.

(Photo: Tony Case) On Friday, the Energy Department announced that one of the 177 storage tanks at Hanford is leaking up to 300 gallons of radioactive waste a year, prompting Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to visit the site on Tuesday.

After touring the site, Wyden said, "This should represent an unacceptable threat to the Pacific Northwest for everybody," the Associated Press reports. 

Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental and watchdog group that works to restore the Columbia basin, reacted to news of the leak with alarm.

"The great concern is these tanks have the most dangerous waste of all,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the group, Bloomberg reports. "They were constantly reassuring us that there is no leaking. This announcement is alarming."

When news of the leak was announced, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he was "alarmed" and warned, "We can't just leave 149 single-shell tanks with high-level radioactive liquid and sludge sitting in the ground for decades after their design life."

"This news is a sharp reminder—a wakeup call—that we can't be complacent, or waver in any way, on our nation's commitment to clean up Hanford. I know this is a time of tight budgets, but with an active leak of high-level radioactive material into the environment, money can't be an excuse for inaction," stated Inslee.

"There are problems that have to be solved," added Wyden, "and right now the Department of Energy cannot say what changes are needed, when they will be completed and what they will cost."

In an interview with PressTV, nuclear scientist Behrad Nakhai said that Hanford "is leaking and it has been leaking for many years. In fact, it is estimated that it has leaked over a million gallons of contaminated radioactive sludge" and produces “one of the most contaminated radioactive materials in the United States that causes alarm for the habitat and environment surrounding this place."

The B Reactor at Hanford produced the plutonium for the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, and legislation has been submitted to make it part of a three-site Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Wyden supports the park proposal, saying, "This is history we ought to preserve" and is "a story that just shouldn't be shunted aside."