A nuclear leak in Washington has allowed for 3,500 gallons of radioactive waste to be released – and the federal government is trying to claim no harm will come.
A massive radioactive leak was discovered this past Sunday at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. Officials have stated that the original container holding the radioactive material has slowly been trickling out roughly 70 gallons since 2011, though they have not determined what accelerated the problem. They are set to begin pumping an estimated 3,000-3,500 gallons of waste back into storage containers.
It comes as no surprise that the federal government was well aware of the waste issue at this site, even approving a $2 billion initiative years ago to fund the contamination clean-up over the course of the next several decades. However, they have only recently begun to make moves on this plan. The program launched this March, with the first major step to remove about 800,000 gallons from the compromised tank to a stable one. Prior to the leak found on Sunday, officials estimated the tank was almost completely empty, with only about 45,000 gallons remaining. Their estimates were clearly proven wrong and have caused a chain reaction in which all other efforts at the site have been postponed until the spill is controlled.
While federal officials are attempting to trivialize the seriousness of the issue, Hanford Reservation manager, Mike Geffre, who discovered the leak back in 2011, stated:
This is catastrophic. This is probably the biggest event to ever happen in tank farm history. The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors, to hold waste safely from people and the environment.
Geffre is referencing the facility’s initial purpose, dating back to the Manhattan Project in 1944. The site was used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons for years, and currently is used as a storage space for all the waste remains created from plutonium production. A total of 177 containers holding radioactive waste occupy the site, and have been since that era in history. Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper Brett VandenHeuvel, “these tanks were not designed to hold waste for decades. It’s past time to get the waste out of the unsafe tanks.”
In a statement released on Monday, the US Department of Energy announced that there are “no indications that waste has reached the environment and there appears to be no threat to the public at this time. We continue to monitor it and have leak detectors in the area.” This assurance is shortchanged, however, by their admission that the tank is “too dangerous” to send workers to inspect the full scope of the damage. Doubt for the federal government’s legitimacy is compounded by the preexisting lawsuit workers at the Hanford site have filed against the United States government, to “ensure that their members and all workers at the Hanford nuclear site are protected from exposure to toxic vapors released from Hanford’s high-level nuclear waste tanks.”
In what has become somewhat of a trend, facility workers in countless nuclear waste sites have demanded that the harm they are exposed to on a daily basis be eradicated. According to Hanford’s lawsuit, some employees have suffered brain damage, nervous system disorders, and lung diseases resulting from the poor management of the facility. It continues to explain that “[officials] don’t have the monitoring equipment in place, they don’t have enough people to do the monitoring, and worst of all, Hanford officials have made it repeatedly clear that they don’t think there is a problem.”
The extraneous circumstances – and common sense – make it difficult to swallow the Department of Energy’s insistence that the spill poses no threat to humans or the environment. One can only hope the situation will be contained before it destroys more lives.
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