BREAKING NEWS: Gov. Inslee says tank storing radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation leaking liquids

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA — A leaking waste tank at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site is raising new concerns about delays in cleaning up the site.

The U.S. Department of Energy says liquid levels are decreasing in one of 177 underground tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation, though it’s not clear by how much.

The tanks hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.

The agency says monitoring wells near the tank have not detected higher radiation levels.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Energy Secretary Steven Chu agreed that the federal government must not waiver in its commitment to clean up the highly contaminated site.

A plant under construction to treat the waste is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Inslee released this statement this afternoon:

Secretary Chu called me this morning with the news of a newly leaking single shell tank at Hanford.

I am alarmed and deeply concerned by this news. This was a problem we thought was under control, years ago, when the liquids were pumped from the tanks and the sludge was stabilized. We can't just leave 149 single-shell tanks with high-level radioactive liquid and sludge siting in the ground, for decades after their design life.

Let me be clear: Washington state has a zero tolerance policy on radioactive leakage. We will not tolerate any leaks of this material to the environment.

Fortunately, there is no immediate public health risk. The newly discovered leak may not hit the groundwater for many years, and we have a groundwater treatment system in place that provides a last defense for the river. However, the fact that this tank is one of the farthest from the river is not an excuse for delay. It is a call to act now.

I am appreciative of Secretary Chu's personal attention to this matter, and know he will deploy all technically-possible solutions to address the leaking tank. I will meet with the Secretary next week in D.C., to hear about the Department's progress on stopping the leak and preventing any further tank leaks at Hanford.

This news is a sharp reminder, a wakeup call, that we can't be complacent, or waiver in any way, on our nation's commitment to clean up Hanford. I know this is a time of tight budgets, but with an active leak of high-level radioactive material into the environment, money can't be an excuse for inaction.

Congress and the federal government must provide the funding needed to address the leaking tank, to verify the condition of the remaining tanks, to build additional interim storage or take other necessary steps to prevent further releases, and to get the long-term solution, the waste treatment plant, completed without further delays.

It is their moral and legal obligation to the citizens of the Northwest, and I will do everything in my power to make sure they live up to that.

Last modified: February 15. 2013 1:43PM
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