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Environment and Planning
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.

Wash. and Ore. Concerned By Possible Worsening Leak At Hanford

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US Department of Energy

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the disclosure of a worsening leak at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is "the most disturbing news."

The U.S. Department of Energy Friday said an underground tank that holds some of the nation's most troublesome radioactive waste may be leaking into the soil. An Oregon official said the development adds "urgency" to the long-running Hanford cleanup. 

The possibly leaking double-hulled tank comes on top of previous reports that six older single-shell tanks have leaked radioactive waste into the environment. Hanford's overseers estimate more than 1 million gallons of contaminated liquids have escaped into the ground from various Cold War legacy facilities at the site.

The federal Energy Department says a routine check uncovered higher radioactivity levels beneath a double-hulled waste tank. The tank contains a nasty nuclear stew. In a written statement, the agency says it has convened a team to find the source of the leak.

The head of Oregon's Nuclear Safety Division Ken Niles says this development stands out from the string of recent bad news from Hanford. 

"It's not an immediate health risk. It's not an immediate environmental risk. But it really does complicate cleanup further," he says. "It's going to add to the cost, it's going to add to the complexity."

Niles says fortunately the leaking tank is miles from the Columbia River. It's surrounded by desert at the center of the sprawling Hanford site in southeastern Washington.

Washington's governor agrees there is no near-term public health threat.

Inslee, a Democrat, says he was reassured in a phone call from the new Secretary of Energy that the federal government "will respond swiftly."

The possibly leaking double-hulled tank comes on top of previous reports that six older single-shell tanks have leaked radioactive waste into the environment. Hanford's overseers estimate more than one million gallons of contaminated liquids have escaped into the ground from various Cold War legacy facilities at the site.

Web extras:

Previous coverage: "Report says it could take up to 6 years to empty leaking tank" (6/17/13): http://nwnewsnetwork.org/post/report-says-it-could-take-6-years-start-emptying-leaking-hanford-tank

Map of Hanford site: http://www.oregon.gov/energy/NUCSAF/HCB/docs/OR_WA_HanfordMap.pdf