A tank storing radioactive waste at America's most contaminated nuclear site appears to have sprung a leak, leaching yet more cancer-causing isotopes into soil some five miles from the Columbia River in Washington state.
The Hanford site produced plutonium that was used to manufacture the bomb that blew up Hiroshima. Now it's home to a different kind of horror: It's used to store nuclear waste while a plant is built on site to treat that waste. But the Department of Energy treatment plant project has been plagued by delays, and tanks that were designed to hold the waste temporarily keep falling apart.
An underground tank holding some of the worst radioactive waste at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site might be leaking into the soil.
The U.S. Energy Department said workers at Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Reservation detected higher radioactivity levels under tank AY-102 during a routine inspection Thursday.
Spokeswoman Lori Gamache said the department has notified Washington officials and is investigating the leak further. An engineering analysis team will conduct additional sampling and video inspection to determine the source of the contamination, she said.
State and federal officials have long said leaking tanks at Hanford do not pose an immediate threat to the environment or public health. The largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest — the Columbia River — is still at least 5 miles away and the closest communities are several miles downstream.
However, if this dangerous waste escapes the tank into the soil, it raises concerns about it traveling to the groundwater and someday potentially reaching the river.
The AP reports that water samples taken beneath the leaking tank "had an 800,000-count of radioactivity and a high dose rate, which means that workers must reduce their time in the area."