There's a big news story brewing up at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. And it's a big enough deal that Senator Ron Wyden - Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee - is headed to Hanford today to ask some inconvenient questions.
The long-delayed cleanup of the nation's most contaminated nuclear site became the subject of more bad news Friday, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a radioactive waste tank there is leaking. ...
The tanks, which are already long past their intended 20-year life span, hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy said liquid levels are decreasing in one of 177 underground tanks at the site. Monitoring wells near the tank have not detected higher radiation levels, but Inslee said the leak could be in the range of 150 gallons to 300 gallons over the course of a year and poses a potential long-term threat to groundwater and rivers.
Anna King of the NW News Network adds a bit of color:
This waste treatment, aka vitrification plant, is a 65-acre complex. It looks like downtown high-rises smashed together with a major-league stadium. The massive factory is supposed to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive goo.
Yes, goo. And a lot of it is the consistency of peanut butter. But this spread isn’t going on a sandwich. No, it’s so hot with radioactivity that humans can’t even get close to it. All that goo is simmering away in WWII and Cold War-era underground tanks.
KGW's Wayne Havrelly checked in with Wyden:
"The region has looked at various cleanup plans and the price tag goes up and up, and we continue to see the kind of disclosures that we saw just the past week," said Wyden.
Senator Wyden is working on a long-term solution. He supports building regional depositories for the nuclear waste. However, Hanford's waste can't be safely transported until it's turned to glass by a vitrification plant that's over budget and many years behind schedule.
"This has to be a much higher priority for the U.S. Senate and for the Energy Committee," said Wyden.
While the latest leak has not reached groundwater or the river, scientists say it will, if something isn't done soon to stop it. That will take more money and Hanford clean-up operations already average about $2 billion a year.
This is another reason why Senator Wyden's ascension to the big chair on Senate Energy came none too soon.