This is part 1 of a 4 part series about the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State. We hope the series will help those in Japan achieve a better understanding of nuclear releases and be able to benefit from the experiences of the victims of Hanford as they deal with their own current circumstances related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
Part 1: Hanford’s History
The Hanford nuclear site was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project tasked with quickly creating a viable nuclear bomb during WWII. Hanford is located in south central Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. The site was selected for the unique terrain and sparse population that suited it for the top secret project.
The first full scale plutonium production reaction in history was the “B reactor”. Plutonium created at Hanford was used in the Trinity test detonation done on US soil and in Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki Japan. The DuPont Company designed and built the B reactor and worked with the US government and military to construct the WWII phases of Hanford. The B reactor began construction in August 1943 and produced its first plutonium on November 6, 1944. Additional reactors came online and by April of 1945 shipments of plutonium soon produced enough material for bomb creation. These reactors dumped radioactive water directly into the river.
Fuel slugs were moved by rail to chemical separation plants called Canyons. The dangerous process was done remotely. As the Canyon began producing plutonium the equipment became so radioactive humans could not be in contact with it. The plutonium extraction also left behind a large amount of highly radioactive nuclear fuel to dispose of. The Canyon plants ran without any filtration on their exhaust stacks during the early years, with the gradual addition of filtration systems later on. The plutonium production released radioactive iodine 131 directly into the air.
Through this period Hanford and the Manhattan Project were top secret. Fewer than 1% of the workers at Hanford knew they were working on nuclear weapons. The majority of the workers were given only enough information to do their job in a compartmentalized manner. Workers were informed of the true nature of their combined work after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
General Electric (GE) took over Hanford as the chief contractor in September of 1946. During the Cold War Hanford expanded to 9 reactors and 4 plutonium processing factories. This complex produced most of the 60,000 weapons in the US nuclear arsenal.
The reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War but left 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste on site in 177 underground tanks. Over the production years at Hanford 57 tons of plutonium were created. All of the waste is highly radioactive and produces explosive gasses that need to be vented to prevent massive explosions. These tanks are now many decades past their design life and up to 1/3 of them are now leaking. The tank complex is only a few miles from the Columbia River.
Somewhere between 1 million to 10 million gallons of this deadly waste has leaked from the tanks into the groundwater and Columbia River. Safely stabilizing the waste in these tanks and preventing more runoff has become a major national project. It is the nations most contaminated nuclear site with a $50 billion dollar clean up budget. The clean up may take up to 100 years with a projected total cost of $130 billion dollars.
Check back tomorrow for part 2, The radioactive releases and exposures at Hanford
Series bibliography and additional reading:
Hanford’s fallout: increased thyroid risks – Hanford Nuclear Site, Washington http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n3_v138/ai_9227959/
Hanford Nuclear Site Wiki
Members of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments November 6, 1994 “An Analysis of the Green Run”
Green Run Wikipedia Entry
NYT Radiation Flowed 200 Miles to Sea, Study Finds Published: July 17, 1992 http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/17/us/radiation-flowed-200-miles-to-sea-study-finds.html
Hanford Animal Studies of Radioiodine Radiat Prot Dosimetry (1995) 60(4): 295-305R.O. McClellan
Meeting about beryllium exposure set for Monday By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer
The release of radioactive materials at Hanford
US to access the harm from Hanford
Tri Cities Washington Wiki
Physicians for Social Responsibility
US to access harm from Hanford
Fukushima 1 Nuke Plant: 154 Terabecquerels per day, every day
Greg Mitchell, Countdown To Hiroshima – Article Series at The Nation http://www.thenation.com/blogs/media-fix
Hanford Downwinders Group
The Hanford Downwinders Information Site:
Hanford environmental report http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/environmental/2009ar.pdf
Hanford thyroid CDC study
Scientist review of the CDC report http://www.downwinders.com/files/htds_expert_report.pdf
National Acadamies of Science documents on Hanford
Physicians for Social Responsibility on Hanford and underestimated doses
http://www.psr.org/chapters/washington/hanford/hanford-and-human-health.html http://www.psr.org/chapters/washington/hanford/hanford-facts.html http://www.psr.org/chapters/washington/hanford/hanford-and-environmental.html
EPA decontamination http://www.epa.gov/osp/presentations/homesec11/hs_Snyder2.pdf
Oxford journal on animal testing at Hanford http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/4/295.full.pdf
Animal testing at Hanford, carcasses found
Hanford and Idaho admitted research studies http://hss.doe.gov/healthsafety/OHRE/roadmap/experiments/0491docc.html
Hanford article – lots of data http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n3_v138/ai_9227959/
Data on downwinders, bomb tests data and Hanford http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downwinders
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – Making Warheads
Downwind bomb tests Utah – results on lambs http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/utah_today/nucleartestingandthedownwinders.html
Nat Cancer Inst on iodine cancers
Iodine uptake into cows milk
Environmental data study – fish – veggies etc
Heart of America Northwest – Hanford Cleanup
Community-Based Participatory Health Survey of Hanford, WA, Downwinders: A Model for Citizen Empowerment
FDA iodine guide
Wiki on protective iodine
CRIIRAD – iodine ingestion totals
Thyroid Cancer: a comprehensive guide to clinical management
Secret Fallout online by Ernest Sternglass with a section on Hanford:
Killing Our Own online by Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon
Hanford environmental testing
http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/rp-publ.htm#envradHealth Safety Security
Photos of Hanford
Admin records, public info
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