Friday, the Washington Government. Jay Inslee announced that six underground tanks, that hold a brew of radioactive and toxic waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are leaking.
In a press conference, after meeting with Energy Secretary Steve Chu, Inslee disclosed that six of 177 tanks was leaking 150 to 300 gallons a year, posing a risk to groundwater and rivers. So far, nearby monitoring wells haven’t detected higher radioactivity levels.
Jay Inslee representing the Washington Government, advised the leaking material posed no immediate risk to public safety, or the environment because it would take a while, perhaps years, to reach groundwater.
Last week, the U.S. Energy Department said that only one tank was leaking at Hanford.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” Inslee said. He called the disclosure “very disturbing news” and contended that the Energy Department needed a new plan, to remove liquid from tanks that can’t be repaired and are the cause of the leaking.
Department of Energy spokeswoman, Lindsey Geisler, said, “There was no immediate health risk, and said federal officials would work with Washington state to address the matter.”
“We received very disturbing news today,” the governor said. “I think that we are going to have to take a new course action which will be vigorously pursued over the next several weeks.”
Richland is in east Washington, and about 50 miles southeast of Yamika. It houses millions of gallons of radioactive waste, left over from plutonium production for nuclear weapons. The federal government built the Hanford facility at the height of World War II, as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Hanford, is already considered one of the most contaminated sites on Earth, according to the U.S. government.
Hanford’s tanks hold some 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste, enough, to fill dozens of Olympic size swimming pools, and many of those tanks are known to have already leaked in the past. An estimated 1 million gallons of radioactive liquid has already leaked from these tanks.
“It’s like trying to determine if climate change is happening, only looking at the data for today,” he said. “Perhaps human error, the protocol at the time did not call for it. But that’s not the most important thing at the moment. The important thing now, is to find and address the ones that are leaking.”
scientists are saying that an estimated 1 million gallons of waste has seeped out of the underground tanks and reached groundwater, that will eventually reach the Columbia River. The U.S. plans to build a plant to turn the waste into low-level radioactive glass for safe storage, but that facility is years behind schedule for what was its projected opening in 2019.
“Frankly, the state Department of Ecology is not convinced that the current storage is adequate, to meet legal and regulatory requirements,” Inslee said.
The federal government already spends $2 billion each year on current Hanford cleanup, one-third of its entire national nuclear waste management budget.
Inslee is reported to of said: “Given those delays, the federal government will have to show that there is adequate storage for the waste in the meantime. And we are not convinced of this. There will have to be a robust exchange of information in the coming weeks to get to the bottom of it.”
“None of these tanks would be acceptable for use today. They are all beyond their design life. None of them should be in service,” he said. “And yet, they’re holding two-thirds of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.”
Inslee and Oregon Government, John Kitzhaber, have championed building additional tanks, to ensure safe storage of the waste until the plant is completed.