Hanford nuclear site tank may be leaking waste into soil

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An underground tank holding some of the worst radioactive waste at Hanford, the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, might be leaking into the soil… 

At the height of World War II, the U.S. federal government created Hanford in the remote sagebrush of Washington state as part of a secret project to build the atomic bomb. The site ultimately produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic blast and for one of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, with production continuing through the Cold War.

It is today the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site with cleanup expected to last decades. The effort has cost taxpayers $40 billion to date (the annual price tag is $2 billion) and should cost $115 billion more. The most challenging task so far has been to remove highly radioactive waste from the 177 aging underground tanks, and to build a plant to treat that waste.

The purpose of the investigation in progress is to confirm a leak after higher radioactivity levels were detected under one tank during last week’s routine inspection. This tank is one of the 28- 2 walls tanks installed years ago after single-shell tanks began leaking. They are all past their intended life span and  the Energy Department is aware of a leak between this specific tank’s two walls. That waste is highly radioactive, takes hundreds of years to decay  and exposure to it would increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

No waste is said to have escaped and state and federal officials have continuously said leaking tanks would not pose an immediate threat to the environment or public health because both the closest waterway and communities are several miles away. Yet, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is treating this risk with utmost seriousness while Seattle-based advocacy group Hanford Challenge is clearly alarming: if a leak is proven outside the tank and waste escapes from the tank into the soil, then it would be a matter of time before it contaminates the groundwater and the river.

The Energy Department is already behind schedule to empty some tanks and handle some of the worst waste. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the site last week and committed to deliver a new plan and be back on track by the end of the summer…

Check out the full article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/hanford-nuclear-site-tank_n_3479387.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003#slide=2599411

Credit photo: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  

Because these nuclear sites were built over 40 years ago, no one really knows what exactly was poured into the tanks or understand how this aging material evolved over time and could react now. According to some, there could even be  a risk of explosions at this point, especially in the case of leaks…

  • Is conveying the absence of immediate danger to the environment or population realistic from those in charge when dealing with such material?
Let us know… 

 


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