On Monday, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board expressed concerns that stored toxic, nuclear waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most contaminated site in the United States, could explode.
Hanford was created in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret project to create the atomic bomb. Over the years, the US has spent billions of dollars to clean up the 586-square-mile site that neighbors the Columbia River. Hanford is located on the southern border between Oregon and Washington and the Pacific Northwest’s largest waterway.
Six underground tanks are currently leaking into the soil. This threatens the groundwater. 56 million gallons of toxic radioactive waste from plutonium production must be removed in order to begin cleanup of Hanford in earnest. The single-shell tanks have only one wall and have leaked in the past. In February, state and federal officials announced that the six tanks are leaking.
The nuclear safety board has warned about the possibility of explosion and the potential for hydrogen gas to build up in the tank – particularly those with a double wall – because the double shell tanks contain waste that constantly generates flammable gas. If adequate ventilation is not provided, the gas might eventually explode.
The board announced this finding right before the hearings are set to begin for the next head of the Energy Department. Last fall, the board recommended monitoring devices and ventilation tanks, and federal officials have been working to develop a roadmap for implementation; this is still in progress.
The federal government spends about $2 billion annually on Hanford cleanup – roughly one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally.