UPDATED INFORMATION: New Leak Discovered At Hanford; Governor Inslee Releases Statement
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee says the state is willing to resort to the legal system to push ahead with cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation after learning that a tank that holds radioactive liquids is leaking at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site.
The Democrat said Friday that the state has a good partner in Energy Secretary Steven Chu but that he's concerned about whether Congress is committed to the cleanup.
Inslee says the leak raises concerns about the integrity of other storage facilities at the highly contaminated site.
The tanks hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
Inslee said the tank is the first to have been documented to be losing liquids since all Hanford tanks were stabilized in 2005. His staff said the federal government is working to assess other tanks. PREVIOUS STORY:
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A leaking waste tank at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site is raising new concerns about delays in cleaning up the Washington state 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 say 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.
Governor Inslee's full statement on news of Hanford leak:
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. 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 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. There are a total of 177 tanks at the Hanford site, 149 of which are single shell tanks.
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 DC, 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.
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