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Tourists and U.S. citizens unaware of the contamination and illness history of Hanford nuclear site

Contaminated US nuclear plant Hanford Site     Plutonium supplier for the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Deutschlandfunk Kultur. By Nicole Markwald 21 Nov 18  [machine translation] The nuclear complex Hanford Site in the US state of Washington supplied plutonium since 1943 – also for the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Leaky tanks on the contaminated terrain make headlines. But in the reactor tours tourists learn nothing of it……

Hanford Site – today a national memorial

The site was declared a National Memorial three years ago, along with Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Alamos, New Mexico. At these three sites, the atomic bomb was developed during the Second World War – under the code name Manhattan Project.

“We’re gonna start today by giving you the backstory of the Manhattan Project.”………

The shock is to see it: We are on a heavily contaminated terrain with a total of nine reactors, all of which are now switched off. The area is about twice as large as the urban area of Hamburg. The danger lurks underground, radioactive waste is stored in huge underground tanks – sirens, which is clear to every visitor, can not mean anything good. But the situation quickly relaxes – it’s one Thursday, 10:15 am – once a month the emergency systems are tested, the tour guide thinks…….

The production started in September 1944, after a good six weeks the first plutonium could be won. The intended use: Fat Man, the nuclear weapon that was dropped on August 9, 1945 over the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

David Anderson is one of today’s visitors to the B reactor. He seems thoughtful – in the place that has brought so much suffering over Japan.

“We have become numb when it comes to the Second World War. We have been at peace with us for so long. We can no longer understand the violence and much else that was happening back then. It makes me sad to know what happened back then. Why? … Why?”

But that’s not an issue in the B reactor tour. And not that Hanford Site today is an oversized atomic dump.

Scientists estimate that the waste stored here still contains around 190 kilograms of plutonium. That would be enough for 23 bombs like the one that was killing Nagasaki and killing at least 70,000 people at once.

The nuclear danger lurks everywhere

But no one knows how much atomic waste is actually stored on the huge area. Exact records from the early days on introduced quantities and their composition or pumping actions between different tanks does not exist. And outside of Washington State or the neighboring state of Oregon, little or nothing is known about Hanford Site and the dangers lurking in the ground……..

Americans know little about Hanford Site

Holly Barker holds an anthropology lecture at the University of Washington in Seattle. Topic today: Hanford site and the threats to the environment and workers. As a young woman, Barker was involved in the volunteer service Peace Corps. This work led them to the Marshall Islands in Oceania, where the United States performed many atomic bomb tests between 1946 and 1958. No, she says, whoever does not live in Washington State probably knows little about Hanford.

“That’s one reason why I offer this course. I think that as citizens we have a duty to know more about it in order to change anything at all. The problems are so enormous and complex that we need the brilliance of the young people in my lecture, the next generation to set about addressing this complicated inheritance. “

Probably the biggest cleaning action in the world

Over the next two hours, she talks in the storied lecture theater about the secrecy with which the project was driven, how it was advised, what quantities of workers could be exposed, and what kind of health problems some of them were carrying. She also tells about the world’s largest cleaning operation, which has been going on for years in Hanford to dispose of radioactive waste safely. After the lecture, Barker tells in her small office in the basement that Hanford Site rarely makes it into the news:

“At least when, as recently, a tunnel collapses and workers have been exposed to higher radiation levels. There are other tunnels that are unstable – if you hear anything about Hanford, it’s just bad. “

“In another developing story at emergency what declared today at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, a vast storage facility in the Eastern part of that state, part of a tunnel, used to transport radioactive waste collapsed.”

In 2017, a tunnel collapsed

In May 2017, a storage tunnel collapsed, a six-by-six-meter off-road area had collapsed. At the time there were 5,000 workers on the site, a security alarm was triggered. The Department of Energy explained that there were eight wagons of nuclear waste in the tunnel, and that radioactive material should not have leaked out………

Increased radiation as a cause of cancer?

……..There are several studies that deal with the cancer rates around Hanford. With different results. Only in one, the studies are unanimous: It is really dangerous for the workers in Hanford site, who clean the grounds.

2060 should be completed decontamination

The decontamination and disposal works have been running since the mid-80s, they are expected to be completed in 2060. There are 177 tanks in the ground, with at least 50 million gallons of garbage in them. Included: 1500 different, easily evaporating chemicals, many highly toxic. And they regularly quit and injure workers, as Attorney General of Washington State lists Bob Ferguson.

“You have a headache, the skin is burning, your lungs are sometimes completely damaged and there are cancer cases.”

In September 2019, the workers involved in cleaning up the nuclear waste were able to celebrate an important success. Washington State, Hanford Challenge, and a union group had sued the Department of Energy for safer working conditions in 2015. Hanford Site is under the Ministry. A court in Seattle has now, after three years, the plaintiffs right. The ministry has been sentenced to over $ 900,000 in fines and must provide better protection for workers.

“Workers have been getting sick for years, but energy, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, they did not take it seriously.”

Workers have been ill for years

Bob Ferguson says the Energy Department did not take the problem seriously, although workers had been ill for years. Next to him was Tom Carpenter, managing director of the Hanford Challenge interest group………..

“Years pass and it still looks the same. This lack of progress frustrates people. Here, so much money flows in here. But you do not hear that it goes ahead. Because it does not.

One of the main problems: where to go with the destructive stuff? an official final deposit does not exist in the US either.

“We do not even have a place to put this waste once we get it out of these high-level nuclear waste tanks.”

Cleaning costs: up to $ 200 billion

And yet there is no alternative for Tom Carpenter:

“Cleaning Hanford will cost up to $ 200 billion. Nothing – compared to the cost of the atomic bomb. We have to do it, we have no choice. To protect our resources, our people and future generations. It would be an incredible crime on the environment not to dispose of this material. “

Washington State also depends on the financial drip. Each year, $ 2 billion goes to the state for the so-called ‘clean up effort’. There is not much in the region except some farming – and workers are well worth a job with a minimum income of $ 60,000 a year. As absurd as it is, the contaminated land is lucrative for Washington State.  

Hanford Site is a place of extremes. Once a flagship project in the Cold War, today the bearer of a frightening title: the radioactively most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere.

Anthropologist Holly Baker:

“I think the challenge Hanford is too big to be understood by a single person. One would have to be a physicist – I know too little about water, radiation, engineering – one would need to have the knowledge of each of these issues associated with Hanford. No single person can do it. And maybe that’s not why Hanford has yet to be solved – because it’s such a complex place where so many different things overlap. ”


November 24, 2018 - Posted by | spinbuster, USA

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