DOE: Hanford Tanks Could Be Leaking Three Gallons A Day

By Anna King

RICHLAND, Wash. – A new detail has emerged on the leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The federal Energy Department acknowledged last week that six single-shelled tanks are holding less radioactive waste than they used to. Monday the agency said those tanks are losing less-than three-gallons a day.

Worst case: Three-gallons-a-day adds up to one-thousand-and-ninety-five-gallons of radioactive waste per year. The Department of Energy says it doesn’t know yet how long these tanks might have been seeping waste. Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Ecology is demanding more information on changing tank levels from the federal government. Cheryl Whalen is a tank waste expert with the state agency.
Cheryl Whalen: “I think we are certainly looking for a lot more data and the analysis of the data to be given to us. We didn’t ask for that before.
Anna King: “You’re asking DOE to show their math?”
Cheryl Whalen: “Yes.”

Whalen explains that interpreting data from these tanks is hard. But even so she isn’t sure how these leaks went unnoticed by state regulators and federal managers – and for how long.

Earlier this month, the Department of Energy announced that one tank was possibly leaking. And last week, Governor Jay Inslee said five more were showing receding levels. Roughly 1-million-gallons of radioactive material previously leaked into the soil from the single-shell tanks at Hanford over a period of decades. This tank waste at Hanford is the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.


“The Department of Energy is committed to the safe cleanup of the Hanford site. The cumulative rate of seepage from the 6 tanks is currently estimated to be less than three gallons a day. To put that amount in perspective, roughly 1 million gallons of material previously leaked into the soil from the single-shell tanks at Hanford over a period of decades. To address those tanks that were leaking, by 2005, the Department removed all the drainable liquid possible out of the single-shell tanks, into double-shell tanks. We have not observed any discernible change in the contamination levels in the monitoring wells, but continue to monitor it very closely,” said Lindsey Geisler, DOE spokesperson.

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