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RICHLAND — Nearly 2,000 capsules containing radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation should be moved, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General.

The 1,936 capsules contain radioactive cesium and strontium and are held in a giant pool of water on the Hanford site, the nation’s most polluted nuclear-weapons production site.

The report released Wednesday said a severe earthquake could cause a loss of power or water in the Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility.

The Tri-City Herald said the report suggests the capsules should be moved to dry storage as soon as possible.

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“We acknowledge the budgetary challenges … ” report author David Sedillo wrote. “However we suggest that the manager (of the) Richland Operations Office expeditiously proceed with its plans to pursue a dry-storage alternative.”

Steps were taken to reduce the risk of a severe earthquake to the storage pool after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

The cesium and strontium were recovered from Hanford’s underground waste tanks from 1974-85, packed in corrosion-resistant capsules and placed in underwater storage.

The capsules, which are about 22 inches long, hold material with 106 million curies of radioactivity, or 32 percent of the total radioactivity at Hanford. The 13 feet of water covering them helps cool the capsules and protects workers from radiation.

The storage facility has been operating for almost 40 years and the concrete in the cells of its underwater pool has begun to deteriorate from radiation exposure.

“Weakened concrete in the walls of the pool increases the risk that a beyond-design earthquake would breach the walls, resulting in the loss of fluid, and thus, loss of shielding for the capsules,” the report said.

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