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Nuclear power plant

More than 250 employees axed from Washington nuclear power facility leaking 1,000 gallons per year of radioactive waste

Thursday, March 28, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: nuclear power plant, radiation leak, radioactive waste

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(NaturalNews) Federal budget cuts have prompted the layoff of at least 235 workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southern Washington, a massive 586-square-mile storage site for radioactive waste located near Richland. But according to the Associated Press (AP), aging underground storage tanks at the facility are estimated to be leaking some 1,000 gallons of radioactive waste into the ground every single year, a serious environmental threat that has many questioning why the government would cut funding for this important mitigation project.

As reported by Tri-CityHerald.com, the cuts were made as part of sequestration by the federal government, or the automatic budget trimming of certain federal programs, and include primarily union positions. But some 27 non-union positions were also cut, and several thousand other contracted workers could also lose their jobs soon as a result of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) contractors cutting back on the work they assign to their subcontractors.

The Hanford facility was originally created by the federal government back in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop and build the atomic bomb, according to the Associated Press. But after the facility stopped producing nuclear weapons after the Cold War, Hanford became the nation's largest and most complex environmental clean-up project, costing American taxpayers roughly $2 billion a year, or one-third of the country's entire budget for nuclear clean-up efforts nationwide.

"You can't furlough 20 percent of the workforce without having an impact on the work," Gary Petersen from the Tri-City Development Council is quoted as saying to AP. "There's no question that the longer you delay clean-up, the longer it's going to take and the higher the cost."

More than a dozen Hanford nuclear waste storage tanks believed to be leaking

The situation hardly bodes well in light of more recent discoveries that at least 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste are seeping from several of the underground nuclear waste storage tanks at Hanford. Early assessments have pinned six of the 177 underground tanks, most of which are now dangerously antiquated, as having leaks. But a more recent report from OregonLive.com explains that DOE may have identified at least 14 others that are also seeping nuclear waste.

In a letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Daniel Poneman from DOE warned that the furloughs and layoffs could severely delay progress towards fixing the leaking tanks -- according to the latest estimates, nearly 5,000 Hanford employees, both permanent and contracted, are being either laid off or put on temporary furlough. Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber are both recommending that new storage tanks be installed to stop the leaks and prevent further problems.

"It all illustrates more and more clearly that we need to get the waste treatment plant completed and operating," said Ken Niles, director of the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) division that manages clean-up efforts at Hanford, about now-delayed efforts to construct a $13.4 billion waste treatment plant that will be used to safely store nuclear waste at the site.

"We do need some additional storage capacity," he added, "and we certainly need more money than Congress is at the moment willing to spend on Hanford."

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