Nuclear waste is the hazardous material that just keeps on giving. The stuff could remain dangerous to humans, the environment and every living thing for a thousand years, but scientists don't know for sure, because that time-frame hasn't arrived yet.
Secretary Chu informed Inslee that an older single-shell storage tank holding radioactive waste had developed a slow leak estimated to be from 150 to 300 gallons per year. The underground tanks are 177 in total, with 149 being single-shell tanks. The single-shell tanks underwent a liquid-stabilization process that was completed in 2005.
The leak was determined by an operations contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, due to decreasing liquid levels. The cause has not been determined.
According to the DOE report, the tank holds 447,000 gallons of radioactive sludge.
“I am alarmed and deeply concerned by this news,” said Inslee in a statement. “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 designed life expectancy.”
Inslee went on to say that Washington State has a “zero tolerance” policy on radioactive leakage into the environment. In this case, the apparent leak is into the ground.
Congress and the Federal government, Inslee went on to say, need to provide funding to address the leaks in the remaining tanks at Hanford, which is one of two places in the nation that houses dangerous nuclear waste material.
“Money can’t be an excuse,” said Inslee, even in tough budget times. The government needs to address the leaking tank and build additional interim storage facilities or provide alternative steps to prevent further leaks and better long term solutions to protect the public and the environment from potential hazards.
There was a minor leak detected in a tank just last year. Currently, there has been no danger to the public determined.
“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”, Inlee’s statement concluded. “I will meet with the Secretary next week in DC, to hear about the Department’s progress on stopping the leak and preventing any further tank-leaks at Hanford.”
A few Hanford statistics from a nuclear watchdog site:
- 177 underground tanks at Hanford that contain radioactive waste.
- 56,000,000 gallons of radioactive waste from plutonium production for the US nuclear weapon arsenal dating back to World War II and the Cold War.
- ~1,000,000 gallons have leaked from at least 67 tanks
- 1 double wall tank, AY-102, that contains ~850,000 gallons of sludge has a very small leak. It has been detected, publicly reported, and DOE is working with the Washington ecology office to continue to monitor it.
- A new facility for waste treatment is being built – construction began in 2001 and it is to be completed by 2019 – the facility will convert the liquid waste in the tanks to a solid glass form. Cost of the facility is $12B.
The public’s concern over nuclear reactors has been quiet in recent times, particularly with President Obama including nuclear power in his energy package. It is a clean and cheap source of energy until the costs of cleaning up leaks and storing the waste for a thousand years gets factored into the equation.
For more information on the Hanford Nuclear plant click here.