Society

Possible Leak Found At Washington Nuclear Waste Site

| by Kathryn Schroeder

There may be a leak at the Washington state Hanford nuclear waste site.

After discovering radioactive material on a worker's clothes, authorities opened an investigation at the nuclear waste site to find out if a leak is occurring, CNN reports.

In addition to the contaminated clothing, high readings of radiation were detected at the site on a robotic device known as a crawler when it was removed from a nuclear waste tank on May 18 by Washington River Protection Services (WRPS), a contractor who works at the Hanford nuclear waste site located about 45 miles from Yakima.

"Established decontamination procedures were followed, which involves removing the contaminated clothing. Further surveying the worker showed no contamination remained. No other workers were affected, and all members of the crew were cleared for normal duty," WRPS spokesman Peter Bengtson said.

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The Double-Shell Tank AZ-101, where the leak may be present, contains 800,000 gallons of nuclear waste, according to the Washington Department of Ecology, which oversees the nuclear waste site.

WRPS did not find liquid escaping from the tank when it used leak-detection instruments on it, but workers will be conducting a visual inspection by video.

Washington state officials also want the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate the incident and make a decision on the site's safety.

"We are not aware of any nuclear waste leaking outside the AZ-101 double-shelled tank, but we expect the US Department of Energy to immediately investigate and report on the source of contamination," Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said in a statement.

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"We're calling for an immediate investigation by US Dept of Energy into contamination & potential leak in a Hanford nuclear waste tank," Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, the Department of Energy confirmed the incident had occurred and said that workers were back on normal duty, according to CNN. It did not state whether federal officials would investigate.

The potential leak occurred after a May 9 tunnel collapse at the Hanford nuclear waste site, creating a 20-foot hole. The tunnel was constructed during the Cold War to hold rail cars that were loaded with equipment that had been contaminated during plutonium production. Since the mid-1990s, the wood and concrete tunnel has been sealed beneath 8 feet of soil, according to the Department of Energy.

The tunnel's collapse generated fears of radiation exposure, but authorities found no evidence that workers had been exposed to radiation or signs of an "airborne radiological release."

The hole created by the tunnel's collapse has since been filled with clean soil, according to officials.

Sources: CNN, Maia Bellon/Twitter / Photo credit: Iwan Gabovitch/Flickr

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