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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.

Energy Department Says Leaking Tank At Hanford 'Stabilizing'

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U.S. Department of Energy
File photo of part of Hanford's C-Farm

After nearly a year of study, the U.S. Department of Energy says fewer radioactive waste tanks appear to be leaking at Hanford than originally thought.

The federal agency that manages Hanford says only one of six suspected leakers is actually a problem. That tank called T-111 is losing about 300 gallons of waste a year. But the federal government says it appears to be stabilizing.

The Department of Energy's Lori Gamache says scientists carefully evaluated the tanks with video surveillance, temperature readings and liquid level measurements. For all the tanks except T-111, Gamache says, "The level decreases are due to evaporation, they are not actively leaking.”

Another tank called AY-102 – a double-hulled tank – is still leaking internally at Hanford.

The southeast Washington site stores 56 million gallons of radioactive waste leftover from plutonium production during World War II and the Cold War in aging underground vessels.