23 Feb (NucNet): The governor of Washington state has said there are six, single-shell tanks leaking radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear site, but there is “no immediate or near-term health risk”.
Jay Inslee said in a statement that energy secretary Steven Chu confirmed the news yesterday.
Mr Inslee said: “I met with Secretary Chu in Washington DC this afternoon, and he told me that the Department of Energy [DOE] has now confirmed there are six tanks leaking radioactive waste at Hanford.
“There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than five miles from the Columbia River.”
State officials announced last week that one of Hanford’s underground tanks was leaking between 150 gallons to 300 gallons a year, posing a risk to groundwater and rivers.
The DOE said last week that monitoring has not identified significant changes in concentrations of chemicals or radionuclides in the soil near the tanks.
The DOE said the tank that was originally identified as leaking is Tank T-111, a 530,000-gallon capacity underground storage tank built between 1943 and 1944, and put into service in 1945. T-111 contains approximately 447,000 gallons of sludge, a mixture of solids and liquids with a mud-like consistency.
Mr Inslee said this is “disturbing news for all Washingtonians”. His statement said: “One week ago, Secretary Chu told me there was one tank leaking. But he told me today that his department did not adequately analyse data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking.”
Wyden says leaking radioactive waste at Hanford poses ‘unacceptable threats’
Hanford fired up on 586 square miles of shrub-steppe desert next to the Columbia River as part of the World War II Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and continued to operate through the Cold War. Its nine now-shuttered nuclear reactors fed 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste to 177 underground tanks, all decades beyond their design life today.
At least 67 of 149 single-shell tanks have leaked, contaminating groundwater. Leaks from the tanks have not reached the river, the Energy Department says, though radioactive waste from other sources has.
Last year, the Department of Energy spotted a leak in the inner shell of one of 28 double-shell tanks, which had been designed to secure waste until a treatment plant was built.
The $13.4 billion treatment plant, about 60 percent complete, has faced huge budget increases, long delays and sharp questions about its safety and technical feasibility. It’s now due to open in 2019, but the Department of Energy can’t say yet if it’ll meet that date.
The treatment plant uncertainty makes the prospect of leaking tanks all the more dire, Wyden said. But he declined to endorse calls from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for new double-shell tanks to reduce the risk.
Department of Energy officials say new tanks would cost $100 million apiece. The leaks are relatively small — up to 300 gallons a year in the 530,000-gallon single-shell tank, for example — and contained in Hanford’s central plateau, more than 5 miles away from the river.