The U.S. Department of Energy has determined that one of the single-shell tanks storing radioactive waste at Hanford is leaking liquids in the range of 150 to 300 gallons per year.
That's according to information the federal government reported last Friday to Gov. Jay Inslee's office.
The leaking tank was built in the 1940's and was stabilized in February 1995, when all pumpable liquids were removed by agreement with the state, the report noted.
The tank currently contains approximately 447,000 gallons of sludge, a mixture of solids and liquids with a mud-like consistency. This is the first tank which has been documented to be losing liquids since interim stabilization was completed in 2005, according to information from Inslee's office. There are a total of 177 tanks at the Hanford site, 149 of which are single shell tanks, he noted.
"I am alarmed and deeply concerned by this news," Inslee said. "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 sitting in the ground, for decades after their design life."
Inslee added, "Let me be clear: Washington state has a zero tolerance policy on radioactive leakage. 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."
Even so, Inslee says the leak discovery is a "...call to act now."
Inslee says he plans to meet with Department of Energy officials in Washington D.C. this week to hear first-hand about progress to prevent future tank leaks at Hanford.
"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," Inslee says. "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 week's leak also caught the attention of Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who chairs the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which shares jurisdiction over Hanford.
Wyden visited the Hanford site yesterday, Tuesday. Based on what he saw, he is calling for his colleagues in Congress to act on the Hanford situation.
"The failure to find a lasting solution to the waste at Hanford is simply an unacceptable threat to the Pacific Northwest," Wyden told the Daily Sun News this morning. "I plan to gather more information about the latest leak, find the most qualified experts to advise Congress on how to put this project back on track, and convene a hearing later this year."
While Inslee and Wyden are calling for the federal government to take action on the leak, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is exploring the possibility of legal action.
"I have met with my legal team and asked them to develop new legal options to enforce the U.S. Department of Energy's current obligations to clean up Hanford," Ferguson said. "We must ensure that Washington communities and our environment are protected."