- Associated Press - Friday, February 22, 2013

YAKIMA, WASH. (AP) - A spokesman for Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says the senator will ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate a monitoring and maintenance program for underground waste tanks at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

The request follows news Friday that six tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are leaking.

Wyden toured the site Tuesday after it was announced last week that one tank was leaking. His spokesman, Tom Towslee, said Friday that the senator would seek the investigation following the announcement of more leaking tanks.

Wyden is the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He has said he’ll seek a commitment during confirmation hearings for the next energy secretary that all radioactive waste at Hanford will be cleaned up.


THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Six underground tanks that hold a brew of radioactive and toxic waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are leaking, federal and state officials said Friday.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the leaking material poses no immediate risk to public safety or the environment because it would take a while _ perhaps years _ to reach groundwater.

But the leaking tanks raise new concerns about delays for emptying them and strike another blow to federal efforts to clean up south-central Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation, where successes often are overshadowed by delays, budget overruns and technological challenges.

Department of Energy spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said there was no immediate health risk and said federal officials would work with Washington state to address the matter.

State officials just last week announced that one of Hanford’s 177 underground tanks was leaking 150 to 300 gallons a year, posing a risk to groundwater and rivers. So far, nearby monitoring wells haven’t detected higher radioactivity levels.

Inslee traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the problem with federal officials. He said Friday that he learned in meetings that six tanks are leaking waste.

“We received very disturbing news today,” the governor said. “I think that we are going to have a course of new action and that will be vigorously pursued in the next several weeks.”

The federal government built the Hanford facility at the height of World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The remote site produced plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and continued supporting the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal for years.

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.

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