4th May 2006
Radioactive insects have been found near Hanford reservation
Richland, in eastern Washington, is the town that Oppenheimer built. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the town’s largetst employer has been the Hanford nuclear reservation, which has produced virtually all of America’s plutonium. Enough to build the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
This new industry helped the town flourish, and today about 160,000 people live near the 586 square mile reservation. 53 million gallons of nuclear waste lies buried in 177 underground tanks, each capable of holding 750,000 gallons. Some of the waste dates back to the Manhattan Project of the 1940s, and the 53 million gallons of sludge will continue to be dangerously radioactive for about 240,000 years.
The people of the town developed a sort of gallows humor about their role in the Cold War. The high school football team is called the bombers, and they wear helmets that feature mushroom clouds. But the joke isn’t very funny anymore.
The old tanks of nuclear waste have been leaking for years, releasing as much as 1 million gallons of nuclear waste into the groundwater. Some local plants, cockroaches, wasps, and ants are measurably radioactive. The nuclear waste continues to ooze underground, down toward the nearby Columbia River.
A couple of hundred miles down the Columbia are the cities of Portland and Vancouver, Washington. More than 1 million people drink water from the Columbia. A gigantic hydroelectric plant lies downstream, as well as numerous farms and recreation areas.
In 1987, Hanford stopped making plutonium, and the most expensive containment and cleanup effort in world history began. Politically connected Bechtel Corporation has been building a gigantic facility to process and store the nuclear waste. And now, almost 20 years later, it is beginning again, almost from square one.
Ironically, past negligence, incompetence and greed have saved Richland. The increasingly expensive project, which will have a total cost of more than $11 billion, has been drawn out so long that the area has had a chance to attract normal industries and diversify the economy. If the project can be completed before too much waste reaches the Columbia, the town should continue to prosper.
But that’s no longer a safe assumption. Bechtel built the massive processing and storage facility that the government requested, but it was found to be far too weak to survive a major earthquake. So now it’s being built again.
Time is running out, and the latest estimate for project completion is 2017.
The reaction of the Bush administration has been to propose a resumption of nuclear weapons manufacture, with the goal of producing 125 new nuclear weapons per year by 2022.
Source: Appletree Blog.
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