Deadly pandemic, increased killings, homelessness, climate change. Distressing news arrives every day from all over the United States
The Pacific Northwest, unfortunately, has even more – in particular, the situation of the federal government’s decommissioned nuclear production workhorse known as the Hanford site, a problem so entrenched that we tend to to forget.
The Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR) now reminds us of this looming threat. His new deeply reported track “Cold war, hot mess” available online for free, well worth the time of anyone who lives in the area. Here are some important points:
• The article opens with Abe Garza, a long-time Hanford Nuclear Reservation employee, and other workers going to one of the site’s holding tanks in 2015 to perform a routine inspection.
“Shortly after his arrival on the site, [Garza’s] the nose started to bleed and wouldn’t stop, ”writes journalist Lois Parshley. “Another crew member complained of a terrible headache. A third said he could smell something like onions. (Previous chemical exposures at work had destroyed Garza’s ability to smell.) Garza knew something was wrong right away, but it was already too late: a potentially deadly cloud of chemicals swept over them.
Garza was later diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning – as well as toxic encephalopathy, a dementia-like disease that is often fatal.
Almost 60% of Hanford workers have reported exposure to hazardous materials, the article says. And workers aren’t the only ones at risk. During Hanford’s eight decades of existence, radioactive waste seeped into the groundwater and radioactive effluents were released into the air which blew for miles. Portland is approximately 230 miles from Hanford.
A 2002 study found that Native American children in the Hanford area have “an extremely high risk of immune disease.” Cancer is also exceptionally prevalent among residents of the region.
• There are hundreds of tanks in Hanford like the one Garza was inspecting that day in 2015. The VQR article points out. “More than a third of single-hull tanks have already leaked. One of the double-hulled tanks, in which the waste was moved after concerns about leaks, also broke down. At the end of April 2021, news broke of a new leak in one of the single-hull tanks, which is expected to discharge nearly 1,300 gallons per year. The expected life of tanks, in many cases, reached their limit 50 years ago.
The risk of an explosion that would cause a Chernobyl-like disaster is very real, according to Tom carpentier, who runs the Hanford Challenge watchdog group.
• What is the US government doing about it? Perpetually underfunded cleanup of the sprawling Cold War era site.
The newspaper writes: “Faced with these increasing costs, the [Department of Energy] announced in 2019 that it would redefine what constitutes “high-level radioactive waste” under federal law, which would allow it to leave additional waste in place, rather than moving it to longer-term storage. sure.
The article adds:
“If the Hanford reservoirs are left in place, it is likely that their radioactive pollutants and heavy metals will contaminate one of the country’s largest rivers, the Columbia. David Trimble of the Government Accountability Office describes this decision making as “the DOE is driving mum and dad and is now running for the freeway.”
• Cleanup is underway, but radioactive waste will continue to be stored in Hanford for decades, possibly forever. It could mean big problems if the Big One – that is, a large earthquake – hits the Pacific Northwest.
“Geologists also discovered that the Hanford power station – which stores spent fuel rods in pools similar to the Fukushima reactor [in Japan] – risk of being subjected to seismic activity two to three times stronger than that for which it was designed, ”states the VQR article. “In the event of a power failure, it would take about a day for enough water to evaporate. [from the pools] cause disaster.