Most contaminated nuclear site in the U.S. leaking waste

An aging tank of high-level radioactive waste is leaking at the Hanford nuclear site in south-central Washington state at the rate of up to 300 gallons a year, reports AP.

Federal authorities disclosed the information late Friday after discovering a dip in the volume of toxic sludge in the tank.

Over a third of the 149 old single-shell tanks at the site are suspected to have leaked up to 1 million gallons of nuclear waste over the years. However, this is the first confirmed leak since federal authorities completed a stabilization program in 2005, which was supposed to have removed most fluids from the susceptible single-shell tanks.

According the U.S. Department of Energy’s press release, liquid levels are dropping in one of 177 underground tanks at the site.

So far no higher radiation levels have been detected, but Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the drip could be in the range of 150 gallons to 300 gallons over the course of a year. He also acknowledged the issue poses a potential long-term threat to groundwater and rivers, especially the Columbia River, the largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest.

"I am alarmed about this on many levels," Inslee was quoted as saying by AP. "This raises concerns, not only about the existing leak … but also concerning the integrity of the other single shell tanks of this age."

This new leak, say experts, calls into question the efficiency of the 2005 program, increasing the urgency of ending roadblocks to a permanent storage solution for the 53 million gallons of waste housed at the site, which was a centre for atomic bomb-making material after World War II.

Image by Peace Action West