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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.

Apparent Hanford Leak Raises New Questions About Buried Tanks

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Department of Energy

OLYMPIA, Wash. – There are renewed concerns about the condition of buried waste tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. The US Department of Energy says one of those mammoth World War II era containers -- thought to have been stabilized -- is losing highly radioactive waste at a rate of 150 to 300 gallons a year.

Keith Phillips is energy policy advisor to Washington Governor Jay Inslee. He says the question now is whether other tanks are also possibly leaking.

"This one was stabilized in 1995 when all the liquids were pumped out under an agreement with the state," Phillips says. "So this is really the first single shell tank leak since all of the single shell tanks were stabilized: 200 gallons a year time 149 question marks is really the question."

That’s how many single shell waste tanks are buried at Hanford. Those tanks were pumped after it was discovered that more than a million gallons of waste had leaked. But radioactive sludge remains behind.

Governor Inslee says it’s time for the federal government to build more interim storage while construction continues on a long-delayed waste treatment plant at Hanford.