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Nuclear Waste Tanks Leaking at Hanford

July 05, 2013

*Correction: The story states that the federal government gives Washington Ecology about $2 billion a year. Actually, it is Congress which allocates funding to the federal government (Department of Energy) for cleanup. DOE then uses that money to pay contractors to do the cleanup work. Ecology provides regulatory oversight of the cleanup and receives some funding to be able to provide that oversight, but they are not doing the hands-on cleanup.


It’s the most contaminated nuclear site in the entire country and it’s right in our backyard. The Hanford Nuclear Site rests northwest of Richland, in an area about half the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Stored ten feet underground at the site are 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. That material resides in 177 holding tanks. The big news released in June: seven of them are leaking.  

On June 20 the Department of Energy announced the secondary layer on a double-shelled tank had a slow leak. Workers detected an increased level of contamination during a routine survey of the leak detection pit outside the tank. That’s according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Energy. To date, six single-shelled tanks are known to have escaping nuclear waste.

A long road lies ahead for safely and securely handling the millions of gallons of radioactive waste at Hanford. The vitrifiaction plant is set for completion sometime in 2019. Although the U.S. energy and Washington ecology departments have stated their commitments to cleaning up the leaking waste, no method on how, or timeframe on when, has been released.