Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) notified Oregon that while crews were working to empty a radioactive waste storage tank at the Hanford site in Washington, an existing leak grew significantly larger.
We knew the million gallon capacity, double-shelled storage tank on the Hanford site had already been leaking; USDOE estimates that about 70 gallons have leaked through the inner wall over the past few years. But as crews worked to remove waste from the tank this weekend, the leak worsened – and an estimated 3,500 gallons leaked through the inner wall.
The good news is that so far, testing shows that the radioactive waste has not breached the outer shell of the double-shell tank, so it has not reached the surrounding environment or the groundwater. Hanford crews will continue to work hard to remove the leaking sludge from the tank.
Construction of the Hanford site broke ground in 1943, and the federal government produced plutonium for America’s nuclear weapons program at Hanford for more than 40 years. That process created large amounts of radioactive and chemically hazardous waste. Since plutonium production ended in 1989, the focus at Hanford has shifted to waste cleanup.
The Oregon Department of Energy serves as a “watchdog” for the Hanford site cleanup, as the historic site sits along the Columbia River just 35 miles north of Oregon’s border.
We have a tremendous stake in ensuring the safe and timely cleanup of Hanford. From Hanford, the Columbia flows through prime Oregon farmlands and fisheries. Radioactive and chemical contamination poses a potential long-term threat to these important resources. Accordingly, our primary role is to ensure cleanup decisions are protective of the river.
Our staff will monitor the situation at Hanford as the USDOE continues its ongoing cleanup efforts.
Learn more about ODOE’s history and work with Hanford, including our role as a Natural Resource Trustee.