Six Nuclear Waste Tanks Leaking at Washington State Site

Six tanks holding radioactive waste at the U.S. Energy Department’s Hanford site in Washington are leaking, more than reported earlier, Governor Jay Inslee said.

He learned of the new number, five more than identified as leaky a week ago, in a meeting yesterday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Washington, D.C., Inslee, 62, said in a statement.

“This is disturbing news for all Washingtonians,” the Democratic governor said. “One week ago, Secretary Chu told me there was one tank leaking. But he told me today that his department did not adequately analyze data it had that would have shown other tanks that are leaking.”

While Inslee said there’s no immediate health threat from the leaky tanks, which are more than five miles from the Columbia River, the disclosure marks the latest setback in a decades-long cleanup effort. Last week, Inslee said that an underground storage tank at Hanford was losing as much as 300 gallons of radioactive sludge a year.

The leaky tanks are among 177 buried at Hanford, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Seattle. The vessels contain 56 million gallons of the most dangerous waste, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The 586-square-mile site was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, across the Columbia from Washington, will ask the GAO to review the monitoring and maintenance of the Hanford tanks, according to Keith Chu, a spokesman. The agency is the investigative arm of Congress.

Federal Failure

“This is the latest example of the U.S. Department of Energy’s failure to adequately resolve the significant threat posed by the nuclear waste at Hanford,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Our office continues to explore all legal options.”

Chu’s revelation “certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford,” Inslee said. All six of the leaky vessels are the single-shell type, he said.

The Energy Department is considering ways to speed the removal of material from the aging containers, Inslee said.

Chu “has assured me he will do all he can to address the issue of the leaking tanks,” Inslee said. “He also assured me there will be immediate additional monitoring of the single-wall tanks.”

The department is working with the state “and other key stakeholders to address the issues associated with these tanks,” Lindsey Geisler, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Hanford decontamination has been stymied by delays and technical issues, causing the projected cost to triple to $13.4 billion since 2000, the GAO said in December. Hanford was the site of the world’s first large-scale reactor, developed as part of the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bombs.

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