Wyden to ask for GAO examination of nuclear leaks in Washington state

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Energy committee, has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine recent nuclear waste leaks in Washington state. 

Wyden has long had an interest in the contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation in southeast Washington, where six tanks are now said to be leaking. 

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, and Energy Department officials have stressed that neither the public nor the environment is currently at risk from the underground leaks. 

But Tom Towslee, a spokesman for Wyden, told The Hill that the Oregon Democrat will ask the GAO to investigate how the Hanford tanks, which hold tens of millions of gallons of radioactive waste, are monitored and maintained. 

The request was earlier reported by the Associated Press. 

Wyden said earlier, after touring Hanford, that any replacement for outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu would need to commit to cleaning up the site

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The Energy Department spends about a third of its nuclear cleanup budget on Hanford, which is close to Washington’s border with Oregon. Wyden and three colleagues are currently working on bipartisan nuclear waste legislation, and the Oregon Democrat has vowed to hold a hearing on Hanford as well. 

“This should represent an unacceptable threat to the Pacific Northwest for everybody,” Wyden said this week. “There are problems that have to be solved, and right now the Department of Energy cannot say what changes are needed, when they will be completed and what they will cost.”