YAKIMA, Wash. —
Today, it is the most contaminated nuclear site in the country, still surrounded by sagebrush but with Washington’s Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco several miles downriver.
Hanford’s tanks hold some 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste — enough to fill dozens of Olympic-size swimming pools — and many of those tanks are known to have leaked in the past. An estimated 1 million gallons of radioactive liquid already leaked there.
The tanks also are long past their intended 20-year life span — raising concerns that even more tanks could be leaking — though they were believed to have been stabilized in 2005.
Inslee said the falling waste levels in the six tanks were missed because only a narrow band of measurements was evaluated, rather than a wider band that would have shown the levels changing over time.
“It’s like if you’re trying to determine if climate change is happening, only looking at the data for today,” he said. “Perhaps human error, the protocol did not call for it. But that’s not the most important thing at the moment. The important thing now is to find and address the leakers.”
There are legal, moral and ethical considerations to cleaning up the Hanford site at the national level, Inslee said, adding that he will continue to insist that the Energy Department completely clean up the site.
He also stressed the state would impose a “zero-tolerance” policy on radioactive waste leaking into the soil.
Cleanup is expected to last decades and cost billions of dollars.
The federal government already spends $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup — one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. The Energy Department has said it expects funding levels to remain the same for the foreseeable future, but a new Energy Department report released this week includes annual budgets of as much as $3.5 billion during some years of the cleanup effort.