The Washington Hanford, the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, became the subject of more bad news Friday, when Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a radioactive waste tank there is leaking.
The news raises concerns about the integrity of similar tanks at south-central nuclear reservation and puts added pressure on the federal government to resolve construction problems with the plant being built to alleviate environmental and safety risks from the waste.
The tanks, which are already long past their intended 20-year life span, hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy said liquid levels are decreasing in one of 177 underground tanks at the site. Monitoring wells near the tank have not detected higher radiation levels, but Inslee said the leak could be in the range of 150 gallons to 300 gallons over the course of a year and poses a potential long-term threat to groundwater and rivers.
“I am alarmed about this on many levels,” Inslee said at a news conference. “This raises concerns, not only about the existing leak … but also concerning the integrity of the other single shell tanks of this age.”
Inslee said the state was assured years ago that such problems had been dealt with and he warned that spending cuts — particularly due to a budget fight in Congress — would create further risks at Hanford. Inslee said the cleanup must be a priority for the federal government.
“We are willing to exercise our rights using the legal system at the appropriate time. That should be clear,” Inslee said.