The Hanford Site, in 1960, located on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

The Hanford Site, in 1960, located on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington. Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

If you’re a Pacific Northwest surfer, did you hesitate before getting in the water after that Fukushima nuclear waste slipped into the ocean? Turns out that radioactive material could someday leak at beaches way closer to home.

Emergency responses are underway after a radioactive waste storage tank was recently found leaking toxic sludge at the Hanford Site, the mostly decommissioned nuclear plant near the Columbia River in Eastern Washington state, KING news reports. The site houses more than four decades worth of plutonium production from the Cold War, which leaves at least one expert fearing that Hanford poses an even greater longterm threat to the West Coast than Fukushima, should the material somehow infiltrate the Pacific Ocean by way of groundwater, and then into the Columbia, and THEN into the sea. It’s happened before. And with 12 tanks now similarly outdated and flawed as the leaking unit, there’s a dangerous likelihood an alarm could sound again, with a larger volume of waste than Fukushima and a shorter proximity to the Pacific Northwest coastline.

“While radiation from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns is reaching the West Coast, carried across the ocean from Japan, the radiation from Hanford is already there, has been there for 70 years, and is in serious risk of catastrophe that could dwarf the effects of Fukushima even on Japan,” wrote Robert Jacobs, a historian of nuclear technologies at the Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City University.

You can read up more on KING’s investigation here. The drama reaches back to 2011, and involves a tank-inspection request from one of Hanford’s former employees, a year-long lag in action from Washington River Protection Solutions, and leakage in nuclear infrastructure that’s over half a century old, near a body of water that has the greatest drainage flow into the Pacific of any North American river.

Beautiful green all around, and not The Incredible Hulk kind. Photo: Burkard

Beautiful green all around, and not The Incredible Hulk kind. Photo: Burkard

"This is catastrophic,” said Mike Geffre, the former employee who spotted the leak. “The double shell tanks were supposed to be the saviors of all saviors, to hold waste safely from people and the environment."

According to Jacobs, the Hanford situation requires more environmental vigilance from the United States than anything that might possibly result from the Fukushima disaster, as it’s happening right on our soil.  

“The amount of radiation in the Hanford area dwarfs the amount arriving on the West Coast of the United States [from Japan] on a scale that is mind-boggling. What is arriving from Fukushima is the result of the meltdowns of three nuclear cores, and it is crossing an ocean. What is stored at Hanford and leeching into the Columbia…is from production that began decades before Fukushima was built. This is not just contamination that is arriving today, or this year. [It] has been saturating the groundwater and ecosystem of the Northwest for more than 70 years.”

On the chance that the speculation is true, glowing neon surfers might boost traction for night surfing.