Six underground tanks at US N-plant site leaking radioactive waste

Feb 23, 2013 12:00 AM

Six single-shell underground radioactive waste tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington state, one of the most contaminated nuclear sites in the US, are leaking, governor Jay Inslee said on Friday.

Inslee, who met federal officials in Washington D C last week, warned there could be more leaky tanks and sought an investigation to plug the leaks immediately before it gets out of hand.

In fact, Inslee said, outgoing US energy secretary Steven Chu also told him that a total of six of the ageing, single-shell tanks were leaking radioactive waste.

He said there seems to have been some confusion over the data that and there was no proper analysis, which must have led the department to initially miss the other five leaking tanks.

"This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford," he said.

There are a total of 177 nuclear waste tanks at south-central Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reservation site.

Although there is no immediate risk to human health, he said, the seeping waste adds to decades of soil contamination and threatens to further taint groundwater below the site.

He also ruled out any immediate threat to the Columbia River.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 5 miles (8 km) from the Columbia River," Inslee said in a statement released by his office. "But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians."

US energy department had earlier disclosed that radioactive waste was found to be escaping from one tank at Hanford.

The declining liquid levels in the tank showed it was leaking at a rate of 150 to 300 gallons (568 to 1,136 liters) per year, the energy department said a week ago.

The energy department said that monitoring wells have identified no significant changes in concentrations of chemicals or radionuclides in the soil.

In a brief statement issued on Friday, the energy department also admitted that six of the nuclear waste tanks were leaking, but said there was "no immediate public health risk."

Reports quoting Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manager for the state Department of Ecology, meanwhile, said for of the six leaking tanks, including the two biggest among the 177, had leaked in the past as well.

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