According to a new report by the Washington State Department of Ecology, a massive underground radioactive chemical storage tank in the state is leaking hundreds of thousands of gallons of nuclear waste into the ground nearby.
That's bad news, reigniting fears that the waste may end up in the Columbia River, one of the largest rivers in the United States and which runs only ten miles from the site — and that latest sign that nuclear facilities can cause grave environmental risks for extremely extremely long periods of time.
The storage tank, located within the Hanford Site, a decommissioned complex in Washington state that made plutonium for nuclear weapons during World War II, holds 123,000 gallons of leftover waste.
Some of this radioactive and chemical waste has been leaking into the ground at a rate of roughly 3.5 gallons a day, contaminating both land and groundwater sources, according to the Department.
Other tanks in the area have already leaked an estimated 200,000 gallons of radioactive waste, according to CBS News.
Experts, however, believe the reality could actually be much worse.
"This leak is adding to the estimated one million gallons of tank waste already in the soil across the Hanford site," Washington State Department of Ecology director Laura Watson said in a statement.
"This highlights the critical need for resources to address Hanford’s aging tanks, which will continue to fail and leak over time," she added.
According to CBS, more than 67 tanks at the site are suspected to be leaking or have already leaked.
Since the late 1980s, workers have actively been trying to clean up, treat, and dispose of the waste to reduce the threat it poses, a collaborative effort established under the Tri-Party Agreement between the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.
Yet roughly 60 square miles of groundwater remain contaminated well above federal standards, according to the Department of Ecology. The site still contains "some of the nation's most complicated nuclear and mixed dangerous waste, which must be cleaned up."
As of right now, "the leak poses no immediate increased risk to workers or the public, but it adds to the ongoing environmental threat at Hanford," Watson told CBS News.
The three agencies are now trying to come to an agreement as to what action to take — but time appears to be running out.
READ MORE: An underground tank in Washington is leaking gallons of radioactive chemical waste [CBS News]
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