NBCRightNow.com - - The Department of Energy confirms a leak in one of the single shell tanks at Hanford, and does not know the cause. The tank is said to be leaking between 150 to 300 gallons per year.
Governor Jay Inslee, his energy advisor Keith Phillips and the Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology Maia Bellon answered questions in an afternoon press conference Friday. "This is an extremely toxic substance," said Inslee, however he said the public should not be up in arms. "We have been assured by people that I do trust, that this poses no immediate threat to the health," said Inslee.
The Office of River Protection says they are monitoring wells in the T Tank Farm, where Tank T-111 is located, and have not identified significant changes in concentrations of chemicals or radionuclides in the soil. DOE says it is continuing to monitor its network of monitoring wells in the area of T Tank Farm and is evaluating possible next steps.
"There is zero tolerance in the state of Washington for high level waste of this nature to be exposed and getting into our environment, into our soil and potentially move into our ground water system and or be connected with the Columbia River." said Bellon.
But Phillips said if would take quite some time for that to happen. "It has to go through several hundred feet of soil before it gets to the ground water and that could take many years maybe even decades. If it gets to the river, we do have a last defense which is a pump and treatment system. Its not 100% perfect and it doesn't capture everything at the site, but we at least have that going," said Phillips.
The tank was classified as an assumed leaker in 1979. Pumpable liquids were removed and in February 1995. 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. Governor Jay Inslee is making a statement and has been in contact with Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Just how long it has been leaking is not clear at this time. "There is some suggestion that this leak has been going on for years, rather than weeks," said Inslee.
Governor Inslee says he'll be meeting with Secretary Steven Chu next week, to come up with a plan, for not only this leaker but the future of all Hanford tanks. He says he'll be asking for funding to fix this problem despite congress dealing with a number of budget cuts.
Statement from Gov. Jay Inslee:
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.