One of the biggest issues with nuclear power is waste storage. How can we store nuclear waste so it doesn’t harm the surrounding environment or people? We definitely haven’t perfected our methods, as an escalating leak at Washington storage plant Hanford Site shows. First found in 2011, the leak worsened this past weekend, triggering the leak alarm.
Workers found the leak in AY-102, one double-shell storage tank on the site out of 28. (Altogether there are 177 storage tanks at Hanford.) Back then, the leak was slow, but the state of Washington urged the federal government, which owns Hanford, to remove the waste. The process finally began about three weeks ago, and this weekend the alarm sounded.
The Washington State Department of Ecology has assured the public that the leak is currently not harmful for workers or the community. So far the outer shell of the storage tank has held, so radioactive waste has built up there instead of in the environment. Yet some wonder if the leak will deteriorate further during the remainder of the pumping process, and if the outer shell will continue to hold. According to Gizmodo, the leak likely wouldn’t result in another Chernobyl or Fukushima, but could contaminate the groundwater. As a precautionary measure, workers donned “respiratory safety gear” in case the waste leak gives off gases.
Hanford Site began to operate in 1943, generating plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The plant closed in 1987 and all work on the site since has concentrated on clean up. The BBC described Hanford as “the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US.”