Governor Says U.S. Must Empty Leaky Radioactive Tanks

The U.S. Energy Department must empty six leaking tanks holding nuclear waste at the Hanford site in Washington, Governor Jay Inslee said.

The state did its part in the manufacture of atomic weapons during the Cold War and has been “the unpleasant home of millions of gallons of radioactive waste for decades now,” Inslee said yesterday at a news briefing in Olympia, the state’s capital.

“The federal government has foisted this waste on the citizens of the state long enough, and we’re going to demand a solution to this problem,” said Inslee, a 62-year-old Democrat.

Inslee said last week that he learned in a meeting with Energy Secretary Steven Chu that six tanks were leaking, five more than identified a week before. The tanks are among 177 buried at Hanford, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Seattle and near the Columbia River.

The leaks don’t pose an imminent threat to public health and there’s no evidence the materials have reached the groundwater, Inslee said.

The vessels contain 56 million gallons of radioactive waste, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The 586-square-mile site was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has asked the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, to investigate maintenance and monitoring procedures at Hanford.

Reduce Risks

“I’m now asking GAO to get to the bottom of how and when DOE found out about these leaks, and what can be done to reduce the risk of radioactive waste contaminating the environment,” Wyden said in a statement.

Nine nuclear reactors and processing facilities produced plutonium at Hanford from 1944 to 1987. The man-made radioactive element was used in atomic bombs, including the one dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 that helped end World War II.

Workers are trying to clean up millions of gallons of toxic waste at the complex. The effort 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.

The Energy Department has expressed concern that contamination from the single-shell tanks may be making its way toward the Columbia River, which supplies drinking water and agricultural irrigation.

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