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Nuclear waste tank at Hanford site may be leaking

U.S. Department of Energy says the small leak produces no increased health or safety risk to the Hanford workforce or the public.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Officials say an underground nuclear waste storage tank in Washington state that dates to World War II appears to be leaking contaminated liquid into the ground.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that Tank B-109 holds 123,000 gallons of radioactive waste left from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The giant tank was constructed during the Manhattan Project and received waste from Hanford operations from 1946 to 1976.

The Washington state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were notified. The Energy Department says the small leak produces no increased health or safety risk to the Hanford workforce or the public.

Gov. Jay Inslee said that the leak highlights the need for more resources at Hanford.

“Obviously this is a concern. It has been a long-time concern of ours because there have been previous thousands of gallons of waste,” Inslee said.

Inslee said the state’s position was that double-walled tanks should be an interim solution before permanent storage solutions are found.

“This leak bolsters our state's position in this regard because this should not be acceptable to the state of Washington.” 

According to a Department of Ecology news release the tank is estimated to be leaking 3.5 gallons a day, or nearly 1,300 gallons per year. 

“This leak is adding to the estimated one million gallons of tank waste already in the soil across the Hanford site,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. “This highlights the critical need for resources to address Hanford’s aging tanks, which will continue to fail and leak over time.”

The federal Department of Energy in an official statement said that the tank had previously been emptied of liquids, and that any potential contamination would be captured and removed by a treatment system that was installed several years ago.

RELATED: Contamination events force project shut down at Hanford nuclear site