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Exposed: The Most Polluted Place in the United States

A new book investigates the toxic legacy of Hanford, the Washington state facility that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The Revelator The Ask, December 14, 2022 – by Tara Lohan, The most polluted place in the United States — perhaps the world — is one most people don’t even know. Hanford Nuclear Site sits in the flat lands of eastern Washington. The facility — one of three sites that made up the government’s covert Manhattan Project — produced plutonium for Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. And it continued producing plutonium for weapons for decades after the war, helping to fuel the Cold War nuclear arms race.

Today Hanford — home to 56 million gallons of nuclear waste, leaking storage tanks, and contaminated soil — is an environmental disaster and a catastrophe-in-waiting.

It’s the costliest environmental remediation project the world has ever seen and, arguably, the most contaminated place on the entire planet,” writes journalist Joshua Frank in the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.

It’s also shrouded in secrecy.

Frank has worked to change that, beginning with a series of blockbuster investigations published in Seattle Weekly a decade ago. Atomic Days offers an even fuller picture of the ecological threats posed by Hanford and its failed remediation.

The Revelator spoke with him about the environmental consequences, the botched cleanup operation, and what comes next.

Why is the most polluted place in the country so little known?

We have to understand what it was born out of, which was the Manhattan Project. There were three locations picked — Los Alamos [N.M.], Oak Ridge [Tenn.] and Hanford — to build the nuclear program.

Hanford was picked to produce plutonium and it ran for four decades, from World War II through the Cold War in the late 80s. For decades people that lived in and around Hanford didn’t know what was really going on there. It was run as a covert military operation. Even now, it’s still very much run like a covert operation because of the dangers that exist with the potential for an attack on one of the nuclear waste tanks……………….

What are the known environmental dangers?

There are 177 underground tanks that hold 56 million gallons of nuclear waste. We know that 67 of those tanks have leaked in the past into the groundwater that feeds the Columbia River.

We know that during its operation in the 50s and 60s the government was monitoring the water in the Columbia River, and even at the mouth of the Columbia they were finding radioactive fish. So we know that there have been leaks that made it to the river.

Right now, we know that there are two tanks currently leaking. The Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Department of Energy know about these leaks, but they can’t do anything about them because there’s no other place to safely put the waste…………………………

What has the cleanup process been like?

The big thing right now is trying to get all this waste vitrified, which is turning it into glass so it can be stored safely and permanently. The government thought that could be done in four years, but that was 30 years ago now……………………………………….

Bechtel is a privately owned corporation and we’re spending billions of dollars paying this company to not get the job done. It’s a big mess……………………………………………….. more https://therevelator.org/hanford-nuclear-book/

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December 16, 2022 - Posted by | media, wastes

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