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Disasters and Accidents
00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Possible Leak At Hanford Nuclear Reservation

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Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – A tank full of radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington may be leaking. Friday the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors say liquid levels in an underground radioactive waste tank are going down.

The single-hulled tank is called T-111. It’s located in central Hanford in a group of tanks called T-farm. The Department of Energy reports the rate of loss is about 150 to 300 gallons of liquid a year.

An Energy spokeswoman named Lori Gamache says the agency isn’t sure what’s causing the drop in levels, but a plan is being formed on what to do next.

“So we have equipment that’s in the tank that monitors the levels," she explains. "And this week we went in and did some visual inspections and confirmed that the equipment was working correctly. And the equipment was showing there was a level decrease in this tank.”

In a press conference this afternoon, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the news "very disturbing."

Tank T-111 is a 530,000-gallon capacity underground storage tank that was put into service in 1945. The tank currently contains approximately 447,000 gallons of radioactive sludge.

There are 177 aging underground tanks at Hanford. That’s the leftovers from producing plutonium during WWII and the Cold War.