The Hanford Nuclear Reservation sits on the plains of eastern Washington, where the state meets Oregon and Idaho. This is open country through which cars pass quickly on the way to the Pacific coast or, conversely, deeper into the heartland. The site is nearly 600 square miles in area and has been largely closed to the public for the past 70 years. Late last year, though, it became part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which will allow visitors to tour B Reactor, where plutonium for one of the two atomic weapons dropped on Japan in World War II was produced.
This was a hopeful turn for a place that, for four decades, stocked the American nuclear arsenal. A total of nine reactors operated at Hanford, and though they are now decommissioned, the reactors have left behind 56 million gallons of radioactive waste.
[…]Not quite, it seems, with recent reports indicating new breaches in the tanks holding the nuclear waste. Workers on the site have been sickened too, suggesting that the rush to designate Hanford as a park may have been premature.
Researchers contend contamination could pose risk to homes near St. Louis; officials say waste is contained
However, a group of private researchers funded by an environmental activist, including a former senior official of the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, is challenging those assurances.
They say a recent sampling they did suggests contamination from the radioactive hot spot is entering a nearby stream, known as Coldwater Creek, and then traveling downstream into the yards of homes.
The contamination involves thorium, a radioactive material that can increase a person’s risks for certain cancers if it gets inside the body, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
ＴThe Corps has found radioactive contamination in the yards of several homes along Coldwater Creek. Agency officials said they believe the contamination was carried by the creek from sites other than the one the Kaltofen group is concerned about. The Corps said it cleaned up those other sites, which are in a commercial-industrial area upstream from the residential properties.
Though officials have said the levels of residential contamination, which was found 6 inches or more underground, don’t pose immediate health threats, they plan to clean up those locations as well. They have told residents to avoid digging in or otherwise disturbing the soil.
Jenell Wright, who grew up in a Coldwater Creek neighborhood, has been a leader in a citizens’ effort to gather information about cases of cancer and other diseases possibly linked to radiation in the area. The effort has helped push government officials to begin a health assessment.
Though the Kaltofen group hasn’t contacted Ms. Wright about its findings, she said she is concerned about possible continuing sources of contamination scattered around the St. Louis region.
The dispute over the hot spot is part of a larger debate nationally over the radioactive legacy of the nuclear-weapons program. With dozens of locations being cleaned up, one question is how much contamination can safely be left behind. In many of these sites, cleanup issues involve how accessible particular locations are to the public and what future uses might be.
Some of the St. Louis weapons-related waste was stored for a time in piles above ground. Portions of it were eventually dumped in a landfill in the area, where heated arguments continue over what to do with it. Some waste simply fell off trucks and railcars as it was being transported.
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.
Six more Hanford workers were evaluated for possible exposure to chemical vapors Monday, bringing the total since Thursday to 26.
Monday three workers in the AP Tank Farm, where sampling was being done, reported smelling suspicious odors. None was wearing a respiratorsbecause chemical vapor levels in the area have been consistently below levels considered unsafe, according to Washington River Protection Solutions.
Three other workers requested medical evaluations because of odors in Hanford tank farms last week.
In total 19 workers reported symptoms that might indicate exposure to chemical vapors from waste held in underground tanks and seven were checked as a precaution.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell—or rather a thimbleful—facing the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
There are over 1,100 large steel tanks brimming with filtered water—except for a low contaminant called tritium—clogging both the plant and an expanding area outside the site.
The water is a mix of tons of groundwater flowing into the plant’s basements and tons of contaminated water that have become radiated after draining down there through the three damaged reactors the water was injected into to keep the melted uranium cores cool. This lethal liquid mix is pumped out the basements and decontaminated before it overflows and seeps into the sea; some of it is recycled back as coolant into the reactors while the rest is pumped into the storage tanks.
This process continues hour after hour, day after day, year after year: a cunningly worthy punishment of the gods for the latter-day Sisyphus, TEPCO. Consequently, every week or two a new tank-full of treated water is added to the forest of steel now covering the area like giant alien mushrooms. The total amount of stored water exceeds 800,000 cubic tons and is inexorably heading for one million tons and more without an end in site.
The cost is enormous, and picking up the tab is the Japanese taxpayer—not TEPCO, which is undergoing a ten-year reconstruction since a government bail out saved it from bankruptcy.
So the million-ton-plus dilemma for the government has boiled down to three options: keep on with the endless and expensive tank building and filling; find a way to remove the tritium from the water; or have TEPCO discharge (dump) the water into the ocean.
The latter option is by far the easiest and least expensive method, except that the water is tritiated: that is the water has become radioactive.
Conclusion: Those supportive of nuclear power tend to minimize the health risks of tritium, while those opposing the use of nuclear power tend to exaggerate its risks.
What is not debatable is the negative psychological impact releasing the water into the sea will have on Japan’s nervous neighbors, the suffering people of the northeast, the region’s fishing industry and the Japanese electorate.
Given such concerns and uncertainties, organizations like Greenpeace urge the government to err on the side of caution. The best option, says Greenpeace, is to continue storing the water while exploring all technical options for tritium separation.
On the face of it, that seems reasonable. But then experts opposing this stance, like Lake Barrett, a nuclear industry consultant advising TEPCO, point out that while it may be possible to create a method of separating the tritium, it hasn’t been found yet, despite much effort; and it would likely cost a couple of billion dollars to develop and perfect in any case. It’s no surprise that TEPCO and the government have reached the same conclusion.
“All that money could be better spent on schools, hospitals,” Barrett told me. “And you can’t go on building tanks forever.”
Besides, he adds, “The very low levels of tritium in the stored water are not a meaningful health risk. After verification that the radioactivity levels are within conservative Japanese health risks, I would not hesitate to drink it, bathe in it, or eat fish or shellfish harvested from it.”
Canberra chose a French design for its next-generation submarine fleet partly because it can easily be refitted for nuclear propulsion by the time the vessels enter service, an influential Australian business daily has reported.
Japan proposed a diesel-powered design based on its Soryu-class sub, which Tokyo believes is one of the quietest in the world.
But Australia wanted the option of converting some of its 12 planned attack submarines from diesel to nuclear, the Australian Financial Review reported on its website Sunday, quoting unnamed political, government and industry sources.
In general, a nuclear-powered submarine is noisier than a conventional one but can cruise underwater much longer without refueling or surfacing.
A nuclear submarine would allow Australia to reach China, the northern Pacific or the western edge of the Indian Ocean, the Australian newspaper reported.
“Cabinet ministers and defense officials have already discussed the possibility of switching from diesel engines to nuclear power part-way through the construction contract,” the website quoted unnamed sources as saying.
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