Six underground tanks holding toxic and radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in south-central Washington, is raising concerns about delays in emptying the tanks.
While officials at the site confirmed Friday that the leaking materials do not pose an immediate risk to public safety or the environment, the news of leaking radioactive waste has renewed discussion over emptying the decade-old tanks, which are long past their 20-year life span.
According to Reuters, the newly discovered leaks were confirmed by Governor a week after the US Energy Department declared that radioactive waste was detected to be escaping from one tank at Hanford.
Inslee said on Friday that the leaking radioactive waste would take years for the chemicals to reach groundwater.
The federal government constructed the Hanford facility during the Second World War as part of the Manhattan Project, which produced plutonium for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The site continued to support the US nuclear weapons arsenal for years.
Reuters said that production of plutonium materials at the site continued through the Cold War and ended in 1989 when focus shifted to cleanup of nuclear and chemical waste at Hanford.
According to USA Today, the US government spends $2 billion a year for the Hansford cleanup.
Inslee mentioned that outgoing US Energy Secretary informed him on Friday that a total of six of the aging, single-walled tanks were leaking radioactive waste.
While Inslee affirmed that the newly discovered leaks would not cause immediate or near-term health risks, because they are more than five miles from the Columbia River. However, he said he considered the leaking tanks as disturbing news for all Washingtonians.
Inslee said in a statement released by his office: "This certainly raises serious questions about the integrity of all 149 single-shell tanks with radioactive liquid and sludge at Hanford.”
The US Energy Department sent out a brief statement admitting that six waste tanks were discovered to be leaking and adding that there was "no immediate public health risk."
Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manager for the State Department of Ecology, told Reuters, that four of the tanks in question, including the two biggest of the group, are known to have leaked waste in the past as well.
Dahl added: "It points to the age of the tanks and how there's going to be an increased probability of this happening in the future. When waste is in the tanks, it's manageable. Once it's out of the tanks and in the soil, it's much harder to manage it, remove it, and down the road you're adding to contamination in the groundwater that already exists."
According to reports, under the multibillion-dollar cleanup plan the waste from the storage tanks will be processed in a special treatment plant that will deactivate the radioactive waste in a glass-like material that can be safely disposed of underground in stainless steel canisters.