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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.

Inslee Says At Least Seven Tanks At Hanford Leaking

Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington Governor Jay Inslee says at least seven tanks of radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are leaking, not two. He says the Department of Energy and its contractors have apparently miscalculated data that would have found the leaks earlier.

Governor Inslee called the revelation that six single-shell tanks and one double-shell tank are actively leaking at Hanford ‘disturbing’ news. Inslee said he would have more information to share next week, but that U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told him in a meeting in Washington, D.C., that the department is looking for faster ways to empty those tanks.

Emptying a single underground tank has sometimes taken years. Inslee also said that there might be more than the seven leaking tanks. The Department of Energy is looking for others.

Inslee says it’s not clear exactly how much radioactive waste has leaked.

“The amount of the leakage varies from tank to tank. Although, they are levels that should cause us concern and demand action.”

Inslee adds that Chu told him if the federal budget cuts known as the sequester go through on March 1, cleanup workers at Hanford would have to be cut back. And that would likely slow down work on the tank farms.

At least 1 million gallons of waste has leaked from the tanks in the past. There is a total of 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in aging underground tanks at Hanford. A $12 billion treatment plant is being built to bind up that waste into glass logs, although the project has faced delays, technical challenges and management strife.

On the Web:

Gov. Inslee's statement on leaking tanks at Hanford - Office of the Governor

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.