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Six Tanks Are Leaking Radioactive Waste at Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Washington Governor Jay Inslee just announced that six tanks are leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Inslee has issued the following statement:

"I met with Secretary Chu in Washington, D.C., this afternoon, and he told me that the Department of Energy has now confirmed there are six tanks leaking radioactive waste at Hanford.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 10 miles from the Columbia River.

"But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians. 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 the other tanks that are leaking.

"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.

"Secretary Chu has a long-standing personal commitment to the clean-up of Hanford. He has assured me he will do all he can to address the issue of the leaking tanks. He also assured me there will be immediate additional monitoring of the single-wall tanks.

"The secretary and I agree that the state of Washington and the federal government must have a thorough and candid discussion about the need for additional storage tanks.

"Frankly, the state Department of Ecology is not convinced that current storage is adequate to meet legal and regulatory requirements.

"With potential sequestration and federal budget cuts looming, we need to be sure the federal government maintains its commitment and legal obligation to the cleanup of Hanford. To see Hanford workers furloughed at the exact moment we have additional leakers out there is completely unacceptable."

Below is more from the Associated Press.

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- Six underground tanks that hold a brew of radioactive and toxic waste at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site are leaking, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday.

The leaking tanks strike another blow to federal efforts to clean up south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation, where any successes often are overshadowed by delays, budget overruns and technological challenges.

State officials just last week announced that one of Hanford's 177 underground tanks was leaking in the range of 150 to 300 gallons a year, posing a risk to groundwater and rivers. So far, nearby wells haven't detected higher radioactivity levels.

Inslee traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the problem with federal officials. He said Friday he learned during meetings that six tanks are leaking waste.

"We received very disturbing news today," the governor said. "I think that we are going to have a course of new action and that will be vigorously pursued in the next several weeks."

Inslee noted there are legal and ethical considerations to cleaning up the Hanford site, both at the state and national level. He also stressed the state would impose a "zero-tolerance" policy on leaking radioactive waste into the soil and insisted that the Department of Energy fully clean up the site.

The tanks already are long past their intended 20-year life span. They hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.

The leaking tanks were missed because graphs that monitor the waste levels were evaluated only over a short period, rather than a longer period that might have shown the levels changing, Inslee said.

"It's like if you're trying to determine if climate change is happening, only looking at the data for today," he said. "Perhaps human error, the protocol 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 leakers."

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The government spends $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup -- one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. The cleanup is expected to last decades.

Central to the effort is the construction of a plant to convert millions of gallons of waste into glasslike logs for safe, secure storage. The $12.3 billion plant is billions of dollars over budget and behind schedule.

Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have championed building additional tanks to ensure safe storage of the waste until the plant is completed. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said earlier this week that he shares their concerns about the integrity of the tanks, but that he wants more scientific information to determine it's the correct way to spend scarce money.

Wyden noted the nation's most contaminated nuclear site -- and the challenges associated with ridding it of its toxic legacy -- will be a subject of upcoming hearings and a higher priority in Washington, D.C.

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