Hanford Superfund Site, Part 2: Worry About It for 24,100 Years

Washington (GGM) Analysis | March 13, 2021 by Attorney Michael Wells

Do you ever think about the vastness of space? Or do you ponder if the universe never ends and is expanding for eternity? On a more personal level, perhaps Earth will be destroyed by an exploding star one day. Maybe you worry about such things, but here on Earth there are known threats, namely the Hanford Superfund Site that will be a problem for possibly 24,100 years, which is the half-life of Plutonium contained on the site, the source of Plutonium used to make the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki that ended World War II. And the Hanford site is filled with Plutonium, which is buried in 177 storage tanks within sight of the Columbia River.

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Heart of the Matter. Climate change has been exacerbated by the oil and coal industries. Nuclear energy appears to some a more viable alternative. Hardly. The Hanford Site shows this to be a faulty premise, especially when you consider what happens when the radioactive waste leaks into the ground and into the water. Because it happened in May 2017 when the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, which holds rail cars full of solid waste, collapsed releasing tons of radioactive waste into the water and soil. Then in December 2018 radioactive dust was released from the site into the air. These are but a few of the problems, and it does not take a complex understanding of climate change and nuclear waste to imagine the scale of the problem.

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How this impacts you personally? The chemical names are long, and the science is hard to follow. But the main reason people should care about the Hanford Site is a shot-glass of liquid out of one of the underground tanks is enough to instantly kill everyone within 100 yards. Of course the tanks have a history of leaking. In fact, whether or not this waste contained in 177 tanks leaks further may depend upon if the concrete that makes the tanks and the caulking that glues the tanks together can hold up long term.

As stated in the first article on this topic, there are 56 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste, made up of 1,800 chemicals. Right now 700,000 gallons of waste are classified as high-level, and that may leak into the Columbia River. And these chemicals will be around for thousands of years. If the tanks crack or otherwise fall apart, there is enough waste to wipe out civilization, a process that will surely be hastened by climate change if something is not done.

To bring this down to a more personal level, this waste causes and has caused bone cancer in many of the people, who live near the site. Imagine if this waste were spread on a wider scale, which could easily happen if it seeps into the groundwater, burns due to a forest fire, or some other calamity such as a flood occurs, all of which could be caused by climate change.

What can you do about this? Of course this problem is almost metaphysical because it will last for so long it is beyond comprehension, and it is on a physical scale that is difficult to grasp. But Congress controls the budget for the cleanup and containment efforts, so it really matters who is in Congress. It cannot be people against regulation, who care nothing for the environment. That will not work at all because it will only increase the risk for everyone. If you do nothing else, think about this when you vote next time.

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Next Steps

  • Learn more about this problem. Check out the Hanford Challenge.
  • Educate yourself on nuclear waste.
  • Learn more about climate change.
  • As always, contact your local, state, and federal officials, in particular, Congress people, who may vote on legislation that affects Hanford and other sites like it.

The Hanford Site will likely always be a problem, but people can take steps to make sure the problem is contained. If it is not contained, it will be a disaster of cataclysmic proportions.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
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Hanford Superfund Site: An American Chernobyl Waiting to Happen

Washington (GGM) Analysis | March 4, 2021 by  Michael Wells

Before COVID-19 hit some Americans probably believed a magic forcefield shielded the country from events other less fortunate nations endured. Not anymore. In the fall of 2019, critics scoffed after watching the hit Netflix show, Cherynobyl, that Cherynobyl could not happen in the United States because Americans would be too well prepared. The Hanford Superfund nuclear site in Washington state has 56 million gallons of waste from plutonium, will take 50 years to clean up, and has caused cancer, dementia, and death. Ronan Farrow called it in a 2016 article, “an American Chernobyl.”

Heart of the Matter. The American government built the Hanford site in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. It later produced the plutonium that was used in the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, which ended World War II. At one point, it produced two-thirds of the plutonium in the United States, which resulted in 56 million of gallons of waste, waste that still exists and has leaked into the ground and water for decades, earning it the description, “the most toxic place in America.”

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How this impacts you personally? Since 2010, 640 gallons per year of radioactive nuclear waste have been leaked from the Hanford site. Of course, this is just an estimate, and the U.S. Department of Energy improperly recorded or did not record many radioactive waste spills. Some of the waste reached the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River 200 miles away, killing all of the fish in the river along the way.

In fact, in 2013, the governor of Washington admitted one tank was leaking up to 300 gallons of radioactive waste per year. The company in control of cleaning it up knew about the leaks and did nothing. This means thousands of gallons of radioactive nuclear waste are still out there spreading all over the country, which affects all of us. 

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If you still are not convinced, the pollution is airborne as well.

The waste produced “air toxins,” which have spread to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Colorado. These toxins along with others in the area surrounding Hanford have caused cancer, dementia, thyroid disorders, and other handicaps. 

Again, these are the things that we know about, and much is not known since private contractors and the United States government lied about it and covered it up for decades. Sadly, sites that take fifty years to clean up do not stay self-contained.

What can you do about this? So much damage has already been done, but that does not mean it needs to continue. The Trump administration created a rule that deemed 90% of the waste at the Hanford site low-level, a rule the Biden administration is trying to change.

What you can do is think before you vote. Learn the candidate’s stance on the environment, in particular clean-up issues and regulatory issues. Try and learn as much as you can about these issues. This is one of 4,000 superfund sites in the United States. Learn about the ones around you, and see if there are any groups you can join. These problems are not going away by themselves:

When you buy an Eco Green Tee, you’re helping educate the public on climate change, promote climate action, and fund habitat restoration projects in Environmental Justice communities which will help alleviate heat islands, insufferable air pollution, and boost carbon storage.

Next Steps

While, contrary to what Jay Gatsby said, we cannot change the past, at least we can try and clean it up.

  • Join groups advocating for cleaning up your local Superfund site(s);
  • Educate yourself about climate change and other environmental issues;
  • Contact local, state, and federal officials about environmental issues; 
  • Be skeptical of what the government does or does not tell you.

Hanford is terrible, but that does not mean it has to stay that way even if it takes 50 years to clean it up.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
Groundbreaking YA book series for all ages. Not only a gripping modern day nail-biter with Machiavellian villains, but also one that opens our eyes to the brutal war going on beneath our feet that controls our destiny, despite our obliviousness to this potentially civilization-destroying threat.

Subscribe to Force of Nature to stay connected to the insights we provide in our effort to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, eco-friendly, carbon neutral global community. Click here to subscribe.

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