The U.S. Department of Energy has reported that an underground nuclear waste storage tank in Washington State, built during World War II, appears to be leaking radioactive liquid into the ground.
This is the second tank believed to be leaking waste left over from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons at the Hanford Nuclear Plant. The first was discovered in 2013. Many more of the 149 single-wall storage tanks at the site are suspected of leaking.
Tank B-109, the last of the suspected leaks, holds 465,000 liters of radioactive waste. The giant tank was built during the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bombs, and contained waste from work at Hanford from 1946 to 1976.
The Hanford Site near Richland in the southeastern part of the state produced about two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal, including the 1945 bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and is now the most contaminated radioactive waste site in the country.
The vast Hanford Landfill has been undergoing a multibillion-dollar environmental cleanup for decades.
The Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were notified Thursday of a likely leak from the tank.
“There is no increased risk to the health or safety of Hanford workers or the public,” said Jeff Tyree, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. “Contamination in this area is not new, and mitigation measures have been in place for decades to protect workers, the public and the environment.”
The state Department of Ecology said the tank is leaking about 13 liters a day.
“It’s a serious issue when radioactive and hazardous chemical waste leaks from the Hanford tank,” said Environmental Director Laura Watson, adding that “this underscores the critical need for resources to address Hanford’s aging tanks, which will continue to fail and leak over time.”
The Seattle-based watchdog group Heart of America Northwest said the leak is releasing radioactive waste that is dangerous for hundreds or thousands of years.
“There is no such thing as a small leak from a high-level nuclear waste tank,” Director Gerri Pollet said.