Inslee says tank leaks at Hanford worrisome

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 28, 2013 

Washington has a zero-tolerance policy for radioactive waste leaking from Hanford's underground tanks, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday.

He recapped his discussion Friday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Washington, D.C., revealing little new information, during a press conference Wednesday in Olympia.

It is not clear how much waste is leaking from six Hanford tanks, but it "could be in the realm of a thousand gallons over a year," he said.

In past decades, an estimated 1 million gallons of radioactive waste leaked from Hanford's 149 single-shell tanks. But none had been known to be leaking after pumpable liquids were removed in 2004, until probable leaks were discovered this month in six of the tanks.

State staff earlier had said two tanks could be leaking up to 300 gallons a year and other leaks could be in the neighborhood of 15 gallons a year.

The Department of Energy this week put the leaking amount at less than 3 gallons a day total.

"We will expect the federal government and the Department of Energy to exercise all possible efforts and utilize all of its technology to eliminate this risk," Inslee said.

Washington State Department of Ecology staff will be working with DOE, and the state should know more about plans to address the issue in the coming weeks, Inslee said.

The single-shell tanks are being slowly emptied into newer double-shell tanks, but space is limited. DOE has been emptying tanks of solids at the rate of about one tank a year since the first tank was emptied of both liquids and solids in 2004.

DOE and the state will be discussing the fastest way to empty the leaking tanks, since fixing the tanks is not possible, Inslee said. He is concerned about the condition of all the single-shell tanks still holding waste after six were discovered to be leaking, he said.

The leaks do not present an imminent risk to public health, he said. Some contamination from previous leaks has reached the groundwater in central Hanford but movement toward the Columbia River five miles away is very slow.

There also is no threat to Washington's agricultural products, he said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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