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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.

DOE: Hanford Tanks Leaking Less Than 3 Gallons Per Day

Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – A new detail has emerged on the leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The federal Energy Department acknowledged last week that six single-shelled tanks are holding less radioactive waste than they used to. Monday the agency said those tanks are losing less than three gallons a day.

Worst case: Three gallons per day adds up to 1,095 gallons of radioactive waste per year. The Department of Energy says it doesn’t know yet how long these tanks might have been seeping waste.

Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Ecology is demanding more information on changing tank levels from the federal government.

“I think we are certainly looking for a lot more data and the analysis of the data to be given to us. We didn’t ask for that before," says Cheryl Whalen, tank waste expert with the state agency.

Whalen explains that interpreting data from these tanks is hard. But even so, she is not sure how these leaks went unnoticed by state regulators and federal managers -- and for how long.

Department of Energy Statement:

“The Department of Energy is committed to the safe cleanup of the Hanford site. The cumulative rate of seepage from the 6 tanks is currently estimated to be less than three gallons a day. To put that amount in perspective, roughly 1 million gallons of material previously leaked into the soil from the single-shell tanks at Hanford over a period of decades. To address those tanks that were leaking, by 2005, the Department removed all the drainable liquid possible out of the single-shell tanks, into double-shell tanks. We have not observed any discernible change in the contamination levels in the monitoring wells, but continue to monitor it very closely.”

- Lindsey Geisler, DOE spokesperson.

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.