More Tanks Leaking at WA Nuke Site

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 @ 04:02 PM gHale

The first report was that one tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was leaking radioactive waste, now it seems six tanks have the problem.

“News of six leaking tanks at Hanford raises serious questions about integrity of all single tanks,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said Friday. The governor did say there are no immediate health risks.

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Inslee said he got the latest information about the site during a meeting in Washington with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

One week earlier, Chu called the governor to tell him that a single-shell tank in the same location was leaking liquids at a rate of 150 to 300 gallons per year. Believed to be the first to lose liquids since 2005, workers built that tank in the 1940s and it can hold 447,000 gallons of sludge, according to the governor’s office.

“(Chu) told me today that his department did not adequately analyze data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking,” Inslee said.

The sprawling, 586-square mile Hanford site houses 177 underground tanks full of radioactive sludge, of which 149 are single-shell tanks.

On Friday, Inslee said there is “still no current health risk” tied to the leaks.

He made similar comments a week earlier, saying “it would be quite some time before these leaks could breach groundwater or the Columbia River.” At the same time, the governor stressed they must address the problem.

“This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford,” he said Friday.

Hanford became a focal point of U.S. nuclear efforts beginning in 1943, when aspects of the Manhattan Project moved there. As local residents moved out, thousands of workers moved into the site where they produced plutonium for use in atomic bombs.

The site — about half the size of Rhode Island, in an area centered roughly 75 miles east of Yakima — continued working during the Cold War, with more plutonium production as well as the construction of several nuclear reactors.

The last reactor shut down in 1987, though a mammoth cleanup effort remained to address what state and federal authorities deemed the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere.

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