This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Set a deadline far in the future. Add 25 years. Maybe 50.
That’s the sluggishness with which the federal government – thanks in part to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – has been dealing with the nation’s most radioactive nuclear waste. A truly scary amount of that waste is quietly seething in our own backyard, at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
A new leak at Hanford demonstrates the folly of strangling the safest disposal option in sight – deep burial in dry Nevada – while letting high-level nuclear waste pile up near rivers around the country in stopgap storage containers.
Hanford hosts 56 million gallons of hot reactor byproducts in 177 steel-walled underground tanks, some dating to the heyday of Betty Grable.
Collectively, they’ve leaked an estimated 1 million gallons of waste into the desert soil, creating radioactive plumes that are gradually headed for the Columbia River.
The Department of Energy put a stop to the big leaks years ago by pumping out liquids from the tanks, leaving crusty, gooey, toxic sludges inside.
Water has been penetrating one of these supposedly “stabilized” tanks. The lyrically named T-111 has reportedly resumed leaking at a rate of 150 to 300 gallons a year.
This is a reminder that the nation’s largest concentration of nuclear waste is stored under insanely makeshift conditions. The oldest tanks, including T-111, were engineered to last 20 years. They were built in 1943 and 1944.
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