RICHLAND, Wash. (KOIN) — It’s something to think about the next time you visit the Columbia Gorge.
The timeline for officials to clean up the biggest, most toxic nuclear waste site in the Western hemisphere is shrinking.
The race to clean up 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste sitting at the Hanford site, 230 miles east of Portland, becomes more urgent each year.
With an estimated price tag of $120 billion, and a theoretical deadline of 2047, cleanup efforts are continually stalled by obstacles including time, money, the danger of the task at hand, and the sheer vastness of the site.
Attempts to store liquid and solid radioactive waste from the 586 square-mile site – which supplied the plutonium for the bomb that ended WWII — have been failing for decades.
1. Your Health and the River
One researcher employed by the state calls it the poster child for how difficult it is to deal with nuclear waste.
What we’re wondering, even 230 miles downstream in the Portland Metro Area, is what kind of effect radiation in the groundwater leading into the Columbia River could potentially have on our health.
2. The tanks
In October 2012, the U.S. DOE released images confirming a double-shell tank, known as AY-102, was leaking through its inner shell.
“I think most of us felt that those double tanks were probably good for a long, long time. The fact that one of them failed really caught our attention,” said Howieson.
“If a catastrophic failure of [AY-102] occurred it would relay so much radioactivity into the soil it would eventually have a deleterious effect on the Columbia river,” said Howieson.
3. What’s really in the river water
That water would either be pumped back into the river, simply dumped into the ground, stored in poorly lined storage tanks, or put into open trenches.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, radioactivity was detected as far as the mouth of the Columbia River, near Astoria, Ore., said Howieson.
Matt McCormick, Department of Energy Manager for Richland Operations Center at Hanford, said some uranium and a hydrogen isotope have made it to the river through contaminated groundwater.
6. Safety concerns and ‘whistleblower’ dismissals
When two former employees of DOE vitrification plant project subcontractor URS raised concerns over the likelihood of a major explosion on site, they claim they were unduly fired.
Nuclear engineer Walt Tamosaitis and former safety manager Donna Busche said they warned a catastrophic explosion – not unlike past disasters– was imminent if construction continued.
Busche said URS fired her to set a precedent for other employees with safety concerns.
Read more at 6 reasons to know about Hanford’s nuclear waste