Feds may ship nuclear waste from Washington to New Mexico

Workers have been cleaning up the Hanford nuclear site since 1989. (Photo: Department of Energy, hanford.gov)
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Trish Anderton

The Department of Energy is considering moving about 3 million gallons of nuclear waste from leaky tanks in Hanford, Washington to a repository in New Mexico.

Officials said shifting the material to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad would give them more flexibility to deal with the leaks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. It would “enable the Department to reduce potential health and environmental risk in Washington State," Dave Huizenga, who heads the Energy Department's Environmental Management program, told local TV news station KOMO.

But an Albuquerque nuclear watchdog group immediately decried the proposal. "This is a bad, old idea that's been uniformly rejected on a bipartisan basis by politicians when it came up in the past, and it's been strongly opposed by citizen groups like mine and others," Don Hancock, director of the nuclear waste safety program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, told Seattle’s King5 TV. "It's also clear that it's illegal."

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced in late February that six tanks were leaking at the World War Two-era Hanford complex. The sprawling site, located some 140 miles southwest of Spokane, is one of the most contaminated places on earth, according to NBC News. Hanford’s last reactor shut down in 1987. The Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Washington forged a pact called the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 to clean it up. Now 11,000 employees are working to finish the job, which will likely to last until mid-century or beyond.

Reactions to the news on KOMO’s Facebook page are sharply divided: ten people criticize the proposed move, while eight support it. Eleven suggest alternate destinations for the waste, ranging from Arizona to Washington, D.C. to outer space.

“Dangerous in transit and what's the use of shipping your problem elsewhere just for someone else to have to deal with?” writes Marilou Kishur. “Deal with it where it is, that's problem enough.”

“150 cars of the most toxic substances that would be a terrorist's dream,” muses Ron Peters.

“Why not put it in leaky 55 gallon drums and store it next to the Washington DC water supply and water for any food grown in that area,” Rob M McCallum proposes. “Bet they would fix the problem real fast.”

But Henry Joseph Parle Sr. is ready to sign on to the government’s plan: “Yes, the containers they ship this stuff in is almost indestructible.”

And so is Chris Kelly, as long as “the American taxpayer is not liable for any future problems they are going to have.”

What do you think should be done with the waste leaking from Hanford’s tanks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!