Six underground tanks full of a mix of toxic and nuclear waste are leaking at the old Hanford Nuclear Reservation, say Washington state officials and the federal government.
If not stopped, the leak threatens the contamination of groundwater and rivers.
The leaking materials at Hanford Nuclear Reservation are no immediate threat to public safety or the environment because it would take perhaps years for the chemicals to reach groundwater, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. So far, nearby monitoring wells haven’t detected higher radioactivity levels.
But the leaks have renewed discussion over delays for emptying the tanks, which were installed decades ago and are long past their intended 20-year life span.
“None of these tanks would be acceptable for use today. They are all beyond their design life. None of them should be in service,” said Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge, a Hanford watchdog group. “And yet, they’re holding two-thirds of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.”
Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manager for the Washington Department of Ecology, told Reuters that four of the tanks have leaked in the past.
“It points to the age of the tanks and how there’s going to be an increased probability of this happening in the future,” she said. “When waste is in the tanks, it’s manageable. Once it’s out of the tanks and in the soil, it’s much harder to manage it, remove it, and down the road you’re adding to contamination in the groundwater that already exists.”
Just last week, state officials announced that one of Hanford’s 177 tanks was leaking 150 to 300 gallons a year.
Inslee then traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the problem with federal officials, learning in meetings Friday that six tanks are leaking.
The declining waste levels in the six tanks were missed because only a narrow band of measurements was evaluated, rather than a wider band that would have shown the levels changing over time, Inslee said.
53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-levelradioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, 200 square miles (520 km2) of contaminated groundwater beneath the site and occasional discoveries of undocumented contaminations that slow the pace and raise the cost of cleanup.