A nuclear tank is leaking at Washington’s Hanford nuclear site, according to an announcement by the state’s Governor Jay Inslee.
The radioactive waste tank has a 20-year life span, but it has been put in use for much longer than that. The tanks at Hanford hold millions of gallons of highly radioactive stew from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
The Boston Globe reports that Hanford is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site. Fridays news adds to frustration over the site’s long-delayed cleanup.
The US Department of Energy reported on Friday that liquid levels have started decreasing in one of the site’s 177 underground waste tanks. While monitoring wells near the tank have yet to detect higher radiation levels, Inslee stated that the leak could introduce 150 to 300 gallons of nuclear waste into the area in the course of a year.
The waste could pose long-term threats to groundwater and rivers in the Pacific Northwest region. Inslee spoke at a news conference about the nuclear tank leaking. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that he stated:
“I am alarmed about this on many levels. This raises concerns, not only about the existing leak … but also concerning the integrity of the other single shell tanks of this age.”
Hanford is one of the nation’s oldest nuclear sites. It was built among the sagebrush in southeastern Washington during World War II. The site produced the plutonium that went into the first atomic bomb, as well as one of the two bombs dropped on Japan.
The nuclear tank leaking at the site was built in the 1940s. It contains roughly 447,000 gallons of radioactive sludge that has the consistency of mud. It has leaked in the past, but was stabilized in 1995. The other tanks at Hanford were stabilized in 2005. The tank in question is not the only one known to have leaked in the past.
The cost to clean up Hanford is billions of dollars. That cleanup will last decades. At the center of the cleanup is the radioactive sludge. The leaking tanks threaten groundwater in the area, as well as the neighboring Columbia River. The river is the largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest.
Inslee added that he will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to discuss the nuclear tank leaking problems, as well as the need to further clean up Hanford.