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article imageSix nuclear waste tanks leaking in Washington

By Greta McClain     Feb 22, 2013 in World
Richland - Officials have confirmed that six underground tanks at Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Plant are leaking radioactive waste.
On Friday, February 15th, U.S. Department of Energy issued a press release which stated they discovered the liquid levels in one of the Hanford single-shell tanks (SST-T-111) was decreasing. They could not determine the specific cause of the "decrease" at that time.
On Saturday, officials at the nuclear plant confirmed that one of the tanks had a leak, leaking approximately 150 to 300 gallons of radioactive liquid ever year. At that time, Washington Governor Jay Inslee told CNN:
"This is an extremely toxic substance, and we have to have a zero-tolerance policy for leaks of radioactive material into the ground and potentially groundwater of the state of Washington. We have been assured by people that I do trust that this poses no immediate threat to ... health. It would be quite some time before these leaks could breach groundwater or the Columbia River."
The Hanford site  along the Columbia River.
The Hanford site, along the Columbia River.
United States Department of Energy
Officials with the U.S. Department of Energy continued to investigate the leak and have now located five additional single-shell tanks that are leaking. Energy Secretary Steven Chu informed Inslee of the additional leaks on Friday.
Inslee issued a statement Friday which confirmed Chu had notified him that officials have located a total of six tanks which are leaking. There are a total of 177 tanks containing radioactive waste buried at Hanford. Of those 177, 149 are single-cell tanks, meaning there is no secondary tank to contain a spill in the event of a leak.
Inslee once again stated there were no immediate health risks, but continued by saying:
"But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians. This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford. I believe we need a new system for removing waste from these aging tanks, and was heartened to hear that the Department of Energy is looking at options for accelerating that process."
According to David Postman, a spokesman for Governor's office, a “data analysis” revealed the problem, but officials do not know how long the additional tanks have been leaking.
T-111 is a 530,000 gallon-capacity underground storage tank which was built between 1943 and 1944. It became operational in 1945. It was classified an "assumed leaker" in 1979 and an interim stabilization project was completed in 1995 according to a Reuters report. The lifespan of the tank is only 20-years. It is unknown at this time if the five other tanks are the same size at T-111, or if they are leaking at the same rate.
The Hanford site was created as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, the code name used for the project which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. The Associated Press says the government spends approximately $2 billion each year to clean up the Hanford site, an amount which is one-third of the entire national budget for nuclear cleanup.
In order to fully remove the storage tanks and clean up the site, a plant that will convert millions of gallons of waste into glasslike logs for safe, secure storage has already begun construction. However, the $12.3 billion plant is already billions of dollars over budget and behind schedule.
Both Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have called for additional tanks to store the well outdated tanks currently on the site while construction continues of the conversion plant. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden told Fox News:
"None of these tanks would be acceptable for use today. They are all beyond their design life. None of them should be in service. And yet, they're holding two-thirds of the nation's high-level nuclear waste."
More about Hartford Nuclear Facility, Washington state, Radioactive waste, Radioactive material
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