HANFORD, Wash. -- The mighty Columbia River is so beautiful in our area, its easy to forget the most contaminated site in the country is just upriver.
"We're getting nuclear waste from military subs going up the river on barges to Hanford," said Brett Vandenheuvel who is charge of Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization keeping a close eye on the complicated decades long cleanup at Hanford.
The cleanup is being questioned after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Friday that high-level nuclear waste is leaking from an underground storage tank.
Now, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is heading to Hanford on Tuesday to get more answers about the leak and the cleanup efforts.
"The region has looked at various cleanup plans and the price tag goes up and up, and we continue to see the kind of disclosures that we saw just the past week," said Wyden.
The Department of Energy says between 200 and 300 gallons of high-level radioactive liquid is leaking from the tank each year. The tank was built in 1944 when Hanford started cranking out plutonium for nuclear weapons including the two bombs dropped on Japan.
Today an estimated 56 million gallons of waste is stored in 177 aging tanks and many have leaked before.
"We have the most dangerous waste leaking from single shell tanks into the ground, on its way to groundwater and then the river and we must prevent that which requires some new tanks," said Vandenheuvel.
Senator Wyden is working on a long-term solution. He supports building regional depositories for the nuclear waste. However, Hanford's waste can't be safely transported until it's turned to glass by a vitrification plant that's over budget and many years behind schedule.
"This has to be a much higher priority for the U.S. Senate and for the Energy Committee," said Wyden.
While the latest leak has not reached groundwater or the river, scientists say it will, if something isn't done soon to stop it. That will take more money and Hanford clean-up operations already average about $2 billion a year.
"We have the most contaminated site in the western hemisphere and aggressively finishing the clean-up is imperative," said Vandenheuvel.