Nuclear board warns of Hanford explosion risk

Hanford nuclear site 2

A federal nuclear safety board has issued a warning on the risk that underground tanks holding radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State might explode, the Associated Press reports.

The warning from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board reiterates what state and federal officials have long known about the risk that a hydrogen gas buildup inside the storage tanks could cause an explosion that would release radioactive material.

The warning comes ahead of confirmation hearings for President Obama’s choice to head up the Energy Department, MIT physicist Ernest Moniz.

"The next Secretary of Energy - Dr. Moniz - needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track, and I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing next week," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairmen Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said according to the AP.

Federal officials announced in February that six of the underground storage tanks at the Hanford facility are leaking.

The project to cleanup 56 million gallons of radioactive waste from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons has been fraught with complications, budget problems and delays. The Hanford nuclear reservation dates from the second world war, when the site was used to make weapons-grade plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project.

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