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Report Slams Fed Oversight of Aging WA Nuclear Site

Built during World War II, the B Reactor at the Hanford Site was the first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. ( Commons)
Built during World War II, the B Reactor at the Hanford Site was the first large-scale nuclear reactor ever built. ( Commons)
February 25, 2020

RICHLAND, Wash. -- The federal government still has not addressed the aging facilities at one of North America's most contaminated nuclear sites. That's according to the Government Accountability Office, now slamming the Department of Energy's response to a 2017 tunnel collapse at the Hanford Nuclear Site in southern Washington.

The report found parts of the World War II-era site haven't been inspected in 50 years.

Tom Carpenter is executive director of Hanford Challenge, a long-time watchdog group working to ensure safe cleanup of Hanford. He said the report should be a wake-up call for the agency and the Pacific Northwest.

"The GAO is warning that this agency just wasn't being careful in assessing these risks and inspecting their problems, and taking actions to avert the kind of catastrophic release that we associate with something like a Fukushima or a Chernobyl," Carpenter said.

The GAO has recommended that the DOE analyze the root causes of the 2017 tunnel collapse, conduct routine inspections of contaminated facilities, and look into oversight of these facilities. The department has agreed with the recommendations and said it will implement all of them by the end of 2020.

Carpenter cited many concerns at the Hanford facilities, including rundown buildings holding nuclear waste. More than 50 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored there in underground tanks. Carpenter added the Department of Energy has been warned in the past about concerns at Hanford.

"There's been a long history of the GAO issuing reports warning about certain things," he said. "The Department of Energy promises action, it fails to deliver on that action, and we move on until the next GAO report."

As an independent agency, Carpenter noted the GAO doesn't have authority to regulate action at Hanford. He said it's up to Congress or the Trump administration to address a growing list of safety concerns at the site.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA