'Catastrophic Leak' Found at Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State

"This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history."

Radioactive waste ; Chemist in protective suit the disposal of radioactive waste
Photo Credit: overcrew/Shutterstock

The amount of radioactive waste that has been leaking between the two walls of one of the underground tanks at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State for several years grew dramatically on Sunday, April 17, with up to 13,000 liters (3,500 gallons) of new waste.

The leak occurred at the double-shell storage known as AY-102, which has been leaking small amounts of nuclear waste since 2011. It is estimated that about 265 liters (70 gallons) of waste leaked from the tank in recent years.

Although it's unclear exactly how much waste spilled out over the weekend, estimates place the amount at somewhere between 11,300 and 13,200 liters (3,000 and 3,500 gallons). 

"This is catastrophic," Mike Geffre, former Hanford worker who first discovered the leak, told King5 News. "This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double-shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors (to hold waste safely from people and the environment).”

According to King5 News, after Geffre first discovered the leak in 2011, the government contractor managing the tanks did not acknowledge the problem until 2012 and the work to remove the remaining waste from the tank did not start until last month.

"The hazards to workers just went up by a factor of 10," said Geffre.

There are about 208 million liters (55 million gallons) of high-level waste stored in 177 underground tanks at Hanford. Of those, 67 were previously said to have leaked, The New York Times reported back in 1998. "Some tanks have double shells, but 149 have single shells, and all are expected to leak at some point unless action is taken."

The tanks are filled with highly radioactive sludges, salts and liquids, nuclear byproducts from nearly four decades of plutonium enrichment.


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