“Hanford Determines Double-Shell Tank Leaked Waste From Inner Tank.”
The above headline on a U.S. Department of Energy press release from last October is bigger news than it first appeared. For the first time, the type of massive storage tank built to hold some of the most radioactive nuclear waste in the world was found to be slowly leaking.
The United States campaign to build a giant arsenal of nuclear weapons during the Cold War created an environmental disaster at Hanford Site in Washington State. Clean-up costs are staggering and the radioactive sludge being leaked threatens to contaminate the region’s water supply.
In February, Federal and State officials said six giant underground tanks holding a toxic brew of highly radioactive liquid wastes are leaking at the 570-square-mile Hanford Reservation. The location of this nuclear waste site is right on the Columbia River in South Central Washington State.
Dirtiest nuclear waste stored at the Hanford Site
Hanford is known as the dirtiest reactor site in the world with 1,000 inactive dumps, 100 to 200 square miles of contaminated ground water, and 50,000 drums of plutonium wastes in temporary storage. For nearly 40 years, Hanford’s eight production reactors made plutonium for Hydrogen bombs for the US military. During that process, contractors dumped plutonium, cesium, technetium, tritium, strontium and other isotopes into the air, soil, ground water. More astonishingly, they even dumped nuclear waste directly into the Columbia River — the drinking water source for downstream cities.
Hanford has 54 million gallons of the high-level waste liquids and sludge in 177 aged and decrepit storage tanks. Back in the 1980s, the Department of Energy (DOE) disclosed that up to 69 of the million-gallon tanks were leaking. February’s disclosure makes 75 confirmed leaking.
The human fallout
In 1990, a DOE analysis of radiation exposures downwind from Hanford found that infants and children were heavily contaminated because of drinking contaminated milk. The Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project found that 13,500 people may have received doses over 33 rads of iodine-131 and that infants and children closest to Hanford could have consumed between 650 and 3,000 rads. Even a single rad can cause thyroid cancer and other illnesses.
Cancers, miscarriages and other health problems suffered by people in the area have been blamed on the deliberate spewing of 5,500 curies of radioactive iodine-131 to the atmosphere in a Dec. 3, 1949, experiment called “green run,” and on the offhand dispersal of 340,000 curies in 1945 alone.
Hanford’s latest six leaks are just a microcosm of the radiation leaked from the site which continues to leak deadly nuclear waste to the Columbia River resulting in a plague of cancer and disease that seems to have no end.
What is Washington State doing about this?
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the U.S. Department of Energy are each looking for answers from a private company managing the most dangerous radioactive waste at the Hanford Site, where plutonium was made for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Inslee has asked his top Hanford adviser to begin inquiries into the situation with the leaking double-shell tank, a spokesperson for his office said.
Inslee said, “We’re going to be reviewing this. We know how diligent I want this state to be of having a zero tolerance policy … on leaking radioactivity. It is the right policy. It is demanding, but it is legally enforceable and we’re going to continue to insist on that policy.”
Inslee added: “We are going to be insistent that our federal partners be open and transparent with us to the extent humanly possible, that we are and will be reviewing what happened in this particular circumstance.”
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