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The Treachery at Hanford

As part of atomic weapons development during the secretive Manhattan Project, Hanford B Reactor at the Hanford site, produced the plutonium that filled the belly of the ‘Fat Man‘ atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. Hanford reached peak production during the Cold War years, and it also produced material for weapons during President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative in the early 80s.

In 1989, Hanford switched to cleanup efforts. While mostly decommissioned, the site hosts one nuclear power generating station, called the Columbia Generating Station, that has a boiling water reactor, supplied by General Electric (GE).

Hanford Nuclear Reservation remains the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere, and is a superfund site that, after nearly a quarter of a century has Pacific Northwest residents and officials pressing for answers. The amount of contamination is astonishing, involving 56 million gallons of liquid radioactive sludge in underground containers, six of which have been determined to be leaking. The cleanup is now estimated to take 40 years, at a cost of 100 billion dollars.

Hanford is located in Richland, in southeastern Washington State, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. Due to the site’s location on the Columbia, residents are justifiably concerned for the future of the spectacular Columbia River and the Columbia River Valley. Commenting on the complexity of cleanup, the United States Environmental Protection Agency states:

The operations at Hanford created one of the largest and most complex cleanup projects in the U.S. Weapons production resulted in more than 43 million cubic yards of radioactive waste, and over 130 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris. Approximately 475 billion gallons of contaminated water was discharged to the soil. Some of the contaminants have made it to groundwater under the site. Over 80 square miles of groundwater is contaminated to levels above groundwater protection standards.

To digress for a moment, it is nearly impossible to conceive of the magnitude of something we have not experienced. What do these numbers mean? Contemplating a billion of anything is like contemplating outer space; there is a point where the mind renders the numbers meaningless. Some EPA water trivia adds perspective to the stunning amount of waste:

Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day.

Nearly one-half of the water used by Americans is used for thermoelectric power generation.

In one year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons (indoors and outside).

It takes six and a half years for the average American residence to use the amount of water required to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool (660,000 gallons).

The United States Department of Energy (USDOE) oversees the bulk of the management for Hanford cleanup, and the US Environmental Protection Agency lists several government superfund site partners here. There are also various government contractors that manage the tank farms and other cleanup processes. Despite government and news agency statements to the contrary, residents have come to realize that: 1) cleanup has not progressed as thought 2) tanks are leaking 3) Hanford officials hid leak evidence from advisory panel 4) the site poses safety hazards to the workers.

With that in mind and turning attention to Bechtel National Incorporated as one example, Hanford can be viewed as a poster child for everything that is wrong with predatory capitalism and influence peddling. In what now looks to be a betrayal of trust, billions of dollars have poured into flawed efforts at cleanup, over a number of years. Dr. Walt Tamosaitis, who is featured in the Vimeo clip, was fired from Bechtel for being a Hanford whistleblower and expressing (fifty) technical and safety concerns, “challenging one of their programs for which they were trying to get 5 million dollars in fee.” [cont’d.]

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