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Contaminated U.S. Site Faces ‘Catastrophic’ Nuclear Leak

Published: July 16, 2008
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Source: New Scientist

ONE of "the most contaminated places on Earth" will only get dirtier if the US government doesn't get its act together - clean-up plans are already 19 years behind schedule and not due for completion until 2050.

More than 210 million litres of radioactive and chemical waste are stored in 177 underground tanks at Hanford in Washington State. Most are over 50 years old. Already 67 of the tanks have failed, leaking almost 4 million litres of waste into the ground.

There are now "serious questions about the tanks' long-term viability," says a Government Accountability Office report, which strongly criticises the US Department of Energy for delaying an $8 billion programme to empty the tanks and treat the waste. The DoE says the clean-up is "technically challenging" and argues that it is making progress in such a way as to protect human health and the environment.

The DoE's plan, however, is "faith-based", says Robert Alvarez, an authority on Hanford at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. "The risk of catastrophic tank failure will sharply increase as each year goes by," he says, "and one of the nation's largest rivers, the Columbia, will be in jeopardy."

The Nuclear Age - Learn more about all things nuclear in our explosive special report.

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