WILDFIRE NEAR WHAT HAS BEEN CALLED "THE MOST RADIOACTIVE SITE ON EARTH", HANFORD NUCLEAR FACILITY.
The fire that began on the Yakima Training Center Saturday night and burned into Benton and Grant Counties over the weekend has ballooned to over 177,000 acres and is 10% contained, according to fire crews.
[Wednesday it was 60 percent contained.]
Smoke and charred hills surround most of the town. About 250 homes are in jeopardy in the current fire footprint. About 400 firefighters, three helicopters and 34 engines are fighting it.
Crews set a backfire Sunday night on Rattlesnake Mountain to keep the Range 12 fire from burning contaminated areas of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where plutonium was manufactured for World War II.
Firefighters on Monday were building a fire line on the eastern flank of the blaze, along Highway 240, to keep the fire from nearing the contaminated nuclear site.
Near the roadway, firefighters were using controlled burns, or “turning the grass into black,” as Rishe put it, to choke the fire of fuel and stop its spread.
AUGUST 3, 2016
Officials from the Hanford nuclear reservation and Energy Northwest have been meeting with fire managers in southeast Washington state Tuesday. The nearby Range 12 Fire has grown ...and high winds are predicted this evening.
Helicopters won't be able to fly if gusts reach 20-30 miles per hour as predicted.
Fire managers said they are confident in their dozer and hand line around the fire’s perimeter -- but the high winds will test crews putting out hot spots.
Fire crews say they’re optimistic they’ll have it out by Friday.
The Range 12 Fire is currently the largest wildfire on a list of active wildfires across the U.S. being managed by government agencies.
Hanford Fire's Operation Manager Lonnie Click says, "It's gonna run, it's gonna get big. We saw this on Monday."
Fire crews from Benton County, Walla Walla County, and even the Department of Fish and Wildlife came to help to fight the blaze. They were trying to protect the Hanford site. And so far, the Hanford nuclear site has been protected.
But, all non-essential Hanford employees were ordered to leave the site until further notice.
Fires have become common in the area
SIZE OF FIRE WAS UNDERESTIMATED
A large area had been burned on Rattlesnake Mountain and nearby land on the Hanford Reach National Monument to keep the fire from spreading to Benton City or the Hanford nuclear reservation.
Firefighters sacrificed the mountain, which is part of one of the last shrub steppe ecosystems in the Columbia Basin, to prevent a repeat of the 24 Command Fire in June 2000.
That wildfire burned the mountain and spread across Hanford, threatening radioactive waste storage areas, and destroyed 11 homes in Benton City.
WHY IS THIS SUCH A THREAT?
BECAUSE THE SHEER VOLUME OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL IN AND AROUND HANFORD'S AGED SITE CANNOT BE COUNTED, CAN'T EVEN BE IMAGINED.
A FIRE THAT SWEPT INTO THAT 'FACILITY' WOULD RELEASE MORE RADIATION INTO THE ATMOSPHERE THAN FUKUSHIMA AND CHERNOBYL COMBINED
JUST SITTING THERE, WITHOUT NEARBY FIRES, THE ENVIRONMENTAL THREAT IS OFF THE CHARTS.
"There is a dangerous radiological threat to the West Coast of the United States that puts the health of millions of Americans at risk.
It includes dangers to public health, dangers to the food supply, and dangers to future generations from long-lived radionuclides, including some of the most toxic material in the world.
It is not Fukushima, it is Hanford.
While radiation from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns is reaching the West Coast, carried across the ocean from Japan, the radiation from Hanford is already there, has been there for 70 years, and is in serious risk of catastrophe that could dwarf the effects of Fukushima on Japan.
USING AMERICAN CITIZENS AS GUINEA PIGS, KNOWING MANY WOULD DIE....
The Green Run
In December 1949 the United States deliberately released an immense amount of radiation into populated areas at the Hanford Site during the notorious Green Run. It was the largest intentional release of radiation conducted by the U.S. government.
[THERE WAS A SECOND 'GREEN RUN' THAT FEW ARE AWARE OF.]The resulting radiation dispersed throughout a vast area stretching across much of Washington State and into Southern Oregon.
Concentrations were found in valleys and lowlands as the radiation distributed irregularly.
Internalizing iodine-131 is a direct cause of thyroid cancer.
THE MAP BELOW SHOWS THE SPREAD OF THE PLUME.
The Tank Farms
Few things pose as great a threat to public health at Hanford than the Tank Farms.
The Tank Farms are 177 single and double shelled waste storage tanks sited at two different locations on the Hanford complex.
In the early days at Hanford, when plutonium for nuclear weapons was separated from the spent nuclear fuel, the leftover uranium from the process was stored in these tanks.
Over the years a wide range of the highest level radioactive and chemical wastes were dumped into these tanks. According to the State of Washington the 177 tanks hold 53 million gallons of the highest level radioactive waste existing in the United States.
67 of the single shelled tanks have leaked over 1 million gallons of this highly radioactive waste which is migrating through the soil and groundwater into the Columbia River.
In 2011 the Department of Energy emptied the contents of many of the leaking single shelled tanks into double shelled tanks, however the design of the double shelled tanks was found to be flawed, resulting in further leaks.
DOES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CARE HOW MANY LIVES HANFORD'S CRUMBLING TANKS AND LEAKS WILL CAUSE?
BEING VERY BLUNT, THE FEDS WOULD RATHER SEE HUMAN LIVES JEOPARDIZED FOREVER THAN SPEND THE BILLIONS TO CLEAN UP HANFORD....BESIDES, THERE IS NO CLEANING UP HANFORD....IT JUST CAN'T BE DONE, EVER.
Two grim facts underlie all the sobering information about the actual and potential harm Hanford poses to the environment.
- Radioactive and chemical contamination has not and will not stay inside Hanford's boundaries.
- Contamination will remain for hundreds of thousands of years beyond any memory of a place called Hanford.
1) Water Contamination
What are the present threats?
At least one third of Hanford's 177 huge high-level nuclear waste tanks, many as big as the capitol dome in Olympia, have leaked. In some areas technology from the 1950s is still being used to detect leaks, probably underestimating the extent of contamination.
Almost all of the single-shell tanks are well beyond their design life, so more leaks are likely.
Radioactive contaminants have reached the groundwater 200 feet below the surface and are on their way or have already reached the Columbia River.
In the last free-flowing US stretch of the Columbia flowing through Hanford, now the Hanford Reach National Monument, 70% of the fall chinook spawn each year.
Over 300 miles of the Columbia River downstream from Hanford are threatened by the leaking tanks.
The WA Department of Ecology notes that "aside from the environmental damage and health risk, the perception of the river being contaminated could devastate the market for northwest agricultural products."1
2) Atmospheric Contamination
Newspaper headlines in 1999, "Nuclear Blob Grows at Hanford,2 described a bulge in the radioactive crust on one of the huge waste tanks caused by a buildup of dangerously explosive hydrogen.
While this threat was resolved, it is one of a variety of safety issues that have plagued Hanford tanks.
These include flammable gasses, nuclear materials, and explosive chemicals.
In 1957 in Siberia a high-level waste tank exploded, spreading a radioactive plume of 20 million curies 180 miles long, giving people estimated doses of .7 to 80 REM, and necessitating the relocation of well over 10,000 people.3
Collapsing tank domes or tank explosions that could spread radioactivity far beyond Hanford remain a genuine threat.
Fires at Hanford pose another real danger. In August 1984 and July 2000 raging sagebrush fires burned three-fifths of the Hanford area.
The July 2000 fire burned three radioactive waste sites and stopped just short of some major waste sites.4
Afterwards plutonium was detected in nearby communities.
Earthquakes are an additional concern.
Just a quarter mile from the Columbia River, two large swimming pool-like structures, the K-Basins, hold 80% of the DOE's stockpile of spent fuel rods.
These storage basins have leaked in the past. If earthquakes cracked these structures, draining off the cooling water, the spent rods could spontaneously ignite, seriously polluting the atmosphere.
EXPENDABLE LIVES, HANFORD WORKERS AND NEARBY RESIDENTS
Hanford employees who work maintaining the Tank Farms have suffered serious and unexplained health problems in recent years.
Each year numerous workers have been exposed to “vapors” and have become sick or lost consciousness and required hospitalization.
Many have suffered ongoing health problems as a result of these exposures. In 2014 over 40 workers suffered from such exposures including a two-week period in late March that saw 26 workers hospitalized.
According to KGW news in Portland, a 1997 study conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory warned that workers exposed to vapors from specific tanks would have significantly increase risk of cancers and other serious diseases, but the conclusions of this report “were never made public, shared with Hanford workers or members of the federally chartered Hanford Advisory Board.”
On 29 September 1957 a [SINGLE] tank containing waste similar to the waste in the Hanford Tank Farms exploded at the Mayak plutonium production site in the former Soviet Union, known as the Kyshtym Disaster.
The cooling system for one of the tanks at the Mayak site failed and the temperature inside the tank rose eventually causing a chemical explosion that sent a radioactive cloud for over 350 km downwind and heavily contaminated an area near the plant with catastrophic levels of cesium-137 and strontium-90.
This was one of the worst radiological disasters in human history at the time, and remained so, along with the fire three weeks later inside a nuclear reactor core at the Windscale facility (now called Sellafield) in Cumbria in the United Kingdom, until the Chernobyl meltdown and explosion in 1987.
The Kyshtym Disaster, which a Soviet study concluded resulted directly in 8,000 deaths (not to mention illnesses) was the consequence of an explosion in ONE tank.
At Hanford there are currently 177 such tanks, each containing similar disastrous potential, and located beside one another.
Contaminations and Dangers
The EPA has identified between 1,500-1,200 specific sites on the Hanford grounds where toxic or radioactive chemicals have been dumped.
The ambiguity of that number speaks volumes about the lack of record keeping and functional data for addressing these problems.
Furthermore, the impacts from Hanford are not only what may happen, but what has already happened.
GENERATIONS OF CANCER VICTIMS, CEMETERIES FULL OF THE DEAD...
Hanford downwinders have suffered generations of cancers and other diseases across a wide area of Eastern Washington and beyond. There is a legacy of death and illness that spans generations downwind from Hanford, and the source of those diseases percolates away in the tanks and waste sites that sit along the Columbia River, spreading deeper into the surrounding ecosystem. The radiation from Fukushima may slowly seep across the vast Pacific, while at Hanford we have the threat of a radiological explosion or terrorist act that could release volumes more radiation than was released by Fukushima
Stand up for Hanford whistleblowers.
Demand transparency on waste management practices and plans at Hanford.
Stand up for the health of Hanford workers who are being exposed to dangerous vapors in their workplace.
And demand support and compensation for the downwind families and workers whose health and wellbeing has been devastated by the most radioactive site in the United States."
DOES ANYONE STILL THINK WE NEED NUCLEAR ENERGY?
IF SO, WILL YOU TRADE PLACES WITH THOSE WHO WORK IN OR LIVE NEAR HANFORD?
- WA Department of Ecology, Protecting the Columbia River, 1999, p. 18.
- "Nuclear Blob Grows at Hanford", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 27, 1999.
- "A Cloud of Secrecy", Spokane Spokesman-Review, 1992.
- "Fire cleanup begins," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 30, 2000.
- "Availability of Radioisotopes Produced in North America," The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, Vol. 41 (9), Sept. 2000.
- Isotopes for Medicine and the Life Sciences, Institute of Medicine, 1995, p. 51-2.