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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.

Wyden Calls For Investigation Into Hanford's Leaking Tanks

U.S. Department of Energy

RICHLAND, Wash. – Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is calling for a federal investigation into the leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. Tuesday the senator asked the federal Government Accountability Office to look into the six single-hulled tanks that are losing radioactive waste.

Wyden is the new chair of a committee that closely watches and funds work at Hanford. The Department of Energy says less than three gallons of radioactive waste could be leaking from the tanks each day.

Senator Wyden wrote a letter asking these questions: How were the leaking tanks identified? Are there changes needed in how those tanks are monitored? And when did the Energy Department and its contractors learn of the problems? He also wants to know what are the current rules for disclosing a leak and whether those protocols were followed.

Washington’s Department of Ecology is asking for more information on the tank leaks from Hanford manager the federal Department of Energy. Energy Secretary Steven Chu admitted to Washington Governor Jay Inslee last week in a meeting in Washington, D.C., that the agency had been reading the data wrong and overlooked changes in tank levels.

There is a total of 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in aging underground tanks at Hanford. It’s the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.

On the Web:

Sen. Wyden's letter to the GAO - US Senate

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio

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.