Governor: 6 tanks leaking radioactive waste at Washington nuclear site

Posted at 7:55 PM, Feb 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-22 19:55:53-05
(CNN) — Six tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington are leaking radioactive waste, the governor said Friday, calling the news “disturbing” even as he insisted there are “no immediate health risks.”

“News of six leaking tanks at Hanford raises serious questions about integrity of all single tanks,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday afternoon on Twitter.

Inslee said that he got the latest information about the site during a meeting in Washington with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

One week earlier, Chu called the governor to tell him that a single-shell tank in the same location was leaking liquids at a rate of 150 to 300 gallons per year. Believed to be the first to lose liquids since 2005, that tank was built in the 1940s and can hold roughly 447,000 gallons of sludge, according to the governor’s office.

“(Chu) told me today that his department did not adequately analyze data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking,” Inslee said.

The sprawling, 586-square mile Hanford site houses 177 tanks total, of which 149 are single-shell tanks.

On Friday, Inslee said there is “still no current health risk” tied to the leaks.

He made similar comments a week earlier, saying “it would be quite some time before these leaks could breach groundwater or the Columbia River.” At the same time, the governor stressed that the problem must be addressed.

“This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford,” he said Friday.

The Hanford site once played a major part in U.S. plutonium production. It is now home to one of the largest nuclear cleanup efforts in the world.

Washington’s governor said that he feared that across-the-board budget cuts called the sequester — which could take effect March 1, unless Congress passes and President Barack Obama signs an alternative — could negatively impact cleanup efforts at the site.

“We need to be sure the federal government maintains its commitment and legal obligation to the cleanup of Hanford,” Inslee said. “To see Hanford workers furloughed at the exact moment we have additional leakers out there is completely unacceptable.”