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US state sounds alarm over N-waste leak

February 23, 2013

Clifton Truman Daniel (C), a grandson of former US president Harry Truman, who authorised the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II, prays for the people killed by the atomic bomb in front of the memorial cenotaph in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on August 4, 2012.  -File Photo by AFP

LOS ANGELES: At least six tanks containing radioactive waste in the US state of Washington are leaking, the state said on Friday, urging more federal help to clean up a site used to make cold war-era bombs.

Washington governor Jay Inslee said the extent of the leaks at the Hanford site which first produced fuel for nuclear bombs in World War II and closed down 25 years ago was “disturbing”.

“There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than five miles from the Columbia River,” he said, after meeting US Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Washington DC. “But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians,” he said.

He noted that Mr Chu, the outgoing US energy secretary, told him a week ago that only one tank was leaking, but admitted “his department did not adequately analyse data it had that would have shown the other tanks that are leaking”.

“This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford. I believe we need a new system for removing waste from these aging tanks, and was heartened to hear that the Department of Energy is looking at options for accelerating that process.”

The Hanford nuclear site, 300km southeast of Seattle, was used to produce plutonium for the bomb that brought an end to World War II. Output grew after 1945 to meet the challenges of the cold war, but the last reactor closed down in 1987.

Its website says: “Weapons production processes left solid and liquid wastes that posed a risk to the local environment.”

Millions of gallons of leftover waste are contained in 177 tanks at the site, according to the Department of Energy, which in 1989 agreed to a deal with Washington state authorities to clean up the Hanford Site.

Governor Inslee urged federal authorities to act quickly to ensure that looming US budget constraints to did not jeopardise extra measures for the nuclear waste site.

“Secretary Chu has a long-standing personal commitment to the clean-up of Hanford. He has assured me he will do all he can to address the issue of the leaking tanks,” he said.

But he added: “Frankly, the state’s department of ecology is not convinced that current storage is adequate to meet legal and regulatory requirements.

“With potential sequestration and federal budget cuts looming, we need to be sure the federal government maintains its commitment and legal obligation to the cleanup of Hanford.” -AFP