March 01, 2014

Wyden Reveals New Safety Risks From Flawed Nuclear Waste Storage Tanks At Hanford, Calls For Immediate DOE Response

Previously Undisclosed DOE Reports Show 6 Additional Double-Shelled Storage Tanks Share Construction Flaws With Currently Leaking Tank; As Many As 19 Tanks May Now have Elevated Risk of Leaks

Washington, D.C. –Up to six storage tanks holding dangerous radioactive nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Southeast Washington State are at a higher risk of leaking, according to previously undisclosed inspection reports released by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Saturday.

Wyden called for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to outline within 45 days how the Department of Energy will address these newly revealed construction problems, and the implications for DOE’s larger plan for cleaning up decades-old nuclear waste.

“Watching the U.S. Department of Energy trying to clean-up the Hanford nuclear weapons production site up the Columbia River in Washington is a bit like watching the movie Groundhog Day: The problems at the site repeat over and over,” Wyden said Saturday.

“It’s time to end the ever repeating excuses that mark DOE clean-up efforts at Hanford.  It’s time for the movie to be over. It’s time for DOE to tell us what’s going on at Hanford and what it is going to do to respond to growing problems at the site.”

The double-shelled tanks were built to replace older, single-shelled tanks, which have been leaking nuclear waste for decades. In 2012, DOE announced for the first time that a double-shelled tank was believed to be leaking, but the agency said the leak stemmed from an isolated construction flaw.

In fact, according to DOE inspection reports of the double-shelled tanks, six other tanks have similar construction flaws that increase the risks of leaks, and an additional 13 tanks may suffer from construction problems that shorten their lifespan.

Including the tank that previously was identified as leaking, inspectors have now found construction problems in 20 out of the 28 double-shelled storage tanks.

Wyden called for DOE to consider alternatives to its current haphazard strategy, including a proposal by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Washington Governor Jay Inslee to build a new generation of tanks to more safely store this waste, while the Energy Department comes up with a real plan for cleaning up the Hanford Site.

Wyden has watchdogged safety issues at Hanford for more than 20 years, starting with a law he wrote while in the House of Representatives that required DOE to monitor risks from the single-shelled tanks.

The inspection reports can be viewed here (October 2012) and here (July 2013) and letter to Secretary Moniz can be viewed here

Related Files