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article imageHanford Plant in Northwest reported as 'America’s nuclear bomb'

By Carol Forsloff     Apr 28, 2011 in Environment
Japan’s nuclear and economic crises continue, with nuclear discharge four times the levels workers should tolerate and an economy seriously impacted, but in Washington State is the US largest nuclear waste dump and is called “America’s nuclear bomb
The Hanford Atomic Plant is located several miles outside of Richland, Washington in a desert area and was one of the principal research and development centers for nuclear energy for bomb-making purposes during World War II. After a series of incidents at the plant, and the nation’s concerns about the safety of nuclear energy, the plant was closed, leaving behind many unresolved issues. Some have involved the health and welfare of people who had lived and worked in the area, with lawsuits in and out of the courts. The concerns continue even more dramatically about the disposition of the nuclear waste that threatens widespread contamination.
The problems experienced by Hanford are said by environmentalists to be a high price to pay for an alternative nuclear energy source that can be devastating after nuclear accidents or during waste disposal. It changed farm lands and villages into an area of nuclear waste products that continue to threaten the West Coast environment. The long-range future of Japan’s current crisis, both financially and in terms of the ongoing problems with the reactors damaged from the country’s earthquake, may continue for many years, scientists tell us. In addition, the Hanford experience provides a dramatic example of problems caused by the building of reactors near residential communities, according to environmentalists and scientists who are concerned about this.
The Hanford Advisory Board Meeting that advises the Department of Energy, Washington Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency (the Tri-Party Agencies--TPA) on the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation met in Portland approximately two weeks ago. These meetings have been an outgrowth of citizen concerns about the plant and environmental concerns. The Advisory Board says, “ The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the largest nuclear waste dump in the Western Hemisphere and a major Northwest environmental issue. It is a serious long-term threat to the Columbia River, which Oregon depends on for power generation, farm irrigation, fishing, transport and recreation.”
In any article entitled, “Big Cleanup Questions Still Loom for Hanford” the author points out the huge costs so far of cleanup that more than two decades has not been completed, with $12.9 billion in funding to date. The cleanup plant is only half constructed and the problems of waste removal and protection of the environment have yet to be resolved for 53 million tons of radioactive waste.
Some of the waste is being held in concrete and carbon-steel tanks that are already decades past the life span they were projected for safety. Gases are burbling, according to observers, and sixty-seven have leaked.At least a million gallons of radioactive goo has ready been spilled into the ground and is on its way to the Columbia River that serves as a major waterway for much of the Oregon and Washington areas.
Waste can generate dangerous gases and explosions, which scientists anticipate can occur. Scientists are also concerned about how far radiation can spread in an accident. They have said the Energy Department was woefully inaccurate by a factor of four just how far radiation could spread in an accident. So while authorities continue to debate the issues involving containment, the costs and the delays bring additional concern that an accident is potentially imminent and the risks to the environment of much of the West Coast in the balance.
Dr. Walter Tamosaitis worked as a research and technology manager and the deputy chief processing engineer for URS Corporation, a subcontractor to Bechtel. He became concerned that the plant being built for waste treatment lacked proper design for function and that it would therefore not work. When he reported this, Tamosaitis maintains in July 2010 he was literally removed from the building where he worked “like an absolute felon” after he had spoken of safety and operational concerns. His concern is that the plant being built is inadequate and will fail and that there are no alternatives that guarantee the safety of the area and its residents as a consequence. The problem, he says, is that Bechtel has stifled safety complaints.
An online newspaper
headlines how Hanford is “America’s nuclear bomb.” Yet the government and the media have not highlighted the issue, critics say, of what might have the potential to be a terrible nuclear accident of major proportions given the present risks. The report labels the surrounding area as the most contaminated area on earth. Examples narrated in the article include the findings of Native Americans of cancerous tumors on fish in 1962. There are numerous other similar accounts throughout the region over the years.
Government officials as well as scientists have expressed concerns over many years, as discussed in another article by this writer on this same topic. According to information cited, Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, reportedly called Hanford the “most tragic chapter in American Cold War history.” The plant was closed because of safety violations in 1986, with experts concerned about the possibility of an explosion. A listing of some of the medical risks associated with Hanford, some of which are still being investigated, are listed here. Radioactive material is related to birth defects, organ failure and infertility, as noted by this source. Radioactive material, above the range of normal, is found surrounding Hanford. Lawsuits claim medical injuries have resulted, which remains controversial during the ongoing disputes in the courts.
Years ago, in 1963, a journalist lived near the Hanford plant in an area known as West Richland with a nuclear engineer husband who said at the time, “We need to move away from here. I’m not sure that this place is really all that safe.” It was only his hunch, but other scientists and environmentalists worry about nearly 50 years later, only now the predictions have become more dire.
More about Nuclear waste, nuclear contamination, nuclear waste dump, nuclear accidents, Japan's nuclear disaster
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