Saturday, April 10, 2010

Newsflash! Hanford Continues to Leak Radiation Into Our Groundwater

I know this is old and common news around the valley, but I enjoyed the author's dry, wry tone.

Radioactive insects have been found near Hanford reservation

Richland, in eastern Washington, is the town that Oppenheimer built. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the town’s largetst employer has been the Hanford nuclear reservation, which has produced virtually all of America’s plutonium. Enough to build the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

This new industry helped the town flourish, and today about 160,000 people live near the 586 square mile reservation. 53 million gallons of nuclear waste lies buried in 177 underground tanks, each capable of holding 750,000 gallons. Some of the waste dates back to the Manhattan Project of the 1940s, and the 53 million gallons of sludge will continue to be dangerously radioactive for about 240,000 years.

The people of the town developed a sort of gallows humor about their role in the Cold War. The high school football team is called the bombers, and they wear helmets that feature mushroom clouds. But the joke isn’t very funny anymore.

The old tanks of nuclear waste have been leaking for years, releasing as much as 1 million gallons of nuclear waste into the groundwater. Some local plants, cockroaches, wasps, and ants are measurably radioactive. The nuclear waste continues to ooze underground, down toward the nearby Columbia River.

A couple of hundred miles down the Columbia are the cities of Portland and Vancouver, Washington. More than 1 million people drink water from the Columbia. A gigantic hydroelectric plant lies downstream, as well as numerous farms and recreation areas.

In 1987, Hanford stopped making plutonium, and the most expensive containment and cleanup effort in world history began. Politically connected Bechtel Corporation has been building a gigantic facility to process and store the nuclear waste. And now, almost 20 years later, it is beginning again, almost from square one.


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