26 workers have now been affected by the radioactive fumes leaking from the Hanford nuclear site in the US state of Washington since April 17, 2016. After several years of radioactive waste leaking, the amount grew dramatically that day when 13 000 liters (3 500 gallons) of new waste was reported. The six affected workers sought medical attention, after being exposed to the odors about a week ago, according to media reports.
The Hanford nuclear site on the Columbia River, in the state of Washington, stores 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left over from the plutonium processing, used in the US nuclear weapons project since the Manhattan Project, in underground tanks. About two-thirds of the radioactive waste is estimated to have been stored in the tanks built in the period between the 1940's and 1970's.
According to Gerry Pollet, the State Representative, these tanks were not meant to last over ten to twenty years, and an explosion was already reported from some of them in the 1950s: “They [tanks] were not supposed to last more than ten to twenty years, twenty years was a dream in the first place. Some of them didn’t last twenty years, and we had a small explosion in the 1950s where hot waste boiled, created a steam explosion under the tank, and we were lucky we didn’t have half of Eastern Washington permanently evacuated.”
Image credit: @Yaro_RT
The massive leak in question occurred at the double-shell storage AY-102, which was already leaking small amounts of nuclear waste since 2011. According to experts' estimates, approximately 265 liters (70 gallons) of waste has leaked during the last couple of years.
The sickening odors, reported by the affected workers, are associated with the vapors coming from the chemical waste and have likely resulted from the transfer of waste. The transfer has stopped until the new equipment gets installed. All 26 of the workers have now returned to work. However, their health issues may be not only temporary but could also suffer some long-term consequences.
Video credit: RT America
“Hanford created the largest inventory of high-level nuclear waste in the nation, and unhappily that waste is currently stored in leaking underground nuclear waste tanks. Now we are starting to see those failing. It is an environmental disaster. At some point, the river becomes so contaminated that you can't use the river,” stated ecologist Tom Carpenter.
To ensure the safety of workers, Bob Ferguson, Washington's Attorney General has engaged in a lawsuit against the Department of Energy and the Hanford tank farm contractor in Septemeber 2015 and is now exploring other legal options, according to the statement on April 3. He hopes that President Barack Obama and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will personally engage in this issue.
“What’s happening at Hanford isn’t right, and I am exploring further legal options to keep our workers safe,” Ferguson stated.
Video credit: Deep 13th Nuclear Waste Info
Featured image: Hanford nuclear site, May 2, 2016. Image credit: @Yaro_RT