Wash. and Oregon Deeply "Disturbed" By Possible Worsening Leak At Hanford

By Tom Banse

Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the disclosure of a worsening leak at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is "the most disturbing news." The U.S. Department of Energy Friday said an underground tank that holds some of the nation's most troublesome radioactive waste MAY be leaking into the soil. An Oregon official said the development adds "urgency" to the long-running Hanford cleanup.

The federal Energy Department says a routine check uncovered higher radioactivity levels beneath a double-hulled waste tank. The tank contains a nasty nuclear stew. In a written statement, the agency says it has convened a team to find the source of the leak. The head of Oregon's Nuclear Safety Division Ken Niles says this development stands out from the string of recent bad news from Hanford.

Ken Niles: "It's not an immediate health risk. It's not an immediate environmental risk. But it really does complicate cleanup further. It's going to add to the cost, it's going to add to the complexity."

Niles says fortunately the leaking tank is miles from the Columbia River. It's surrounded by desert at the center of the sprawling Hanford site in southeastern Washington. Washington's governor agrees there is no near-term public health threat. Democrat Jay Inslee says he was reassured in a phone call from the new Secretary of Energy that the federal government "will respond swiftly."

The possibly leaking double-hulled tank comes on top of previous reports that six older single-shell tanks have leaked radioactive waste into the environment. Hanford's overseers estimate more than one million gallons of contaminated liquids have escaped into the ground from various Cold War legacy facilities at the site.

Previous coverage:

"Report says it could take up to 6 years to empty leaking tank" (6/17/13):

Map of Hanford site:

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