This is part 2 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 2: Hanford exposures
People in the area including many of the workers at Hanford were never informed of the releases. They were not informed of the potential risks to their health by living in the region.
Releases into the air:
The plutonium extraction process released radioactive iodine 131 directly into the environment. Filters were only implemented much later in 1948 as more was understood about the risks. The installed filtration did not completely eliminate radioactive releases. These releases carried radioactive iodine 131 in the wind to southeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and British Columbia. The populations downwind were never informed of these releases or given any information to lower their risks. The bulk of the releases were during a 5 month period during the early operation of the plant.
During the first 10 years, Hanford released more than 530,000 curies of radioactive iodine 131 into the air. A total of 740,000 curies of radioactive iodine 131 are estimated to have been released into the air between 1944 and 1972. As comparison the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster released between 15 to 24 curies of iodine 131. Chernobyl released between 35 million to 49 million curies of iodine 131. Iodine 131 was not the only substance released into the air and water around Hanford. Releases at Hanford included plutonium that traveled as far away as Spokane and Mt. Rainier
To put the releases into more familiar terms the following are expressed as becquerels:
530,000 curies = 19,610 terabecquerels
740,000 curies = 27,380 terabecquerels
For comparison Fukushima Daiichi’s daily releases in April 2011 were 154 terabecquerels per day:
Hanford released on average 977 terabecquerels per year.
Hanford released an average of 2.67 terabecquerels per day.
As Fukushima Daiichi is brought more under control it is expected the releases to the air will decrease.
Iodine 131 was not the only thing released into the air. The radioactive isotopes listed in the following table were also released into the air.
HEDR Estimates of Radiation Released into the Air by Hanford, 1944-1972
*the amounts released are averaged based on a low to high range.
Radionuclide Amount Released (curies) Half-Life
Iodine-131 740,000 8 days
Tritium (H-3) 200,000 12 years
Cobalt-60 1 5 years
Krypton-85 19,000,000 11 years
Strontium-89 700 50 days
Strontium-90 64 29 years
Zirconium-95 1,200 64 days
Ruthenium-103 1,200 39 days
Ruthenium-106 390 370 days
Iodine-129 46 16 million years
Tellurium-132 4,000 78 hours
Xenon-133 420,000 5 days
Cesium-137 42 30 years
Cerium-144 3,800 284 days
Plutonium-239 1.8 24,000 years
The releases at Hanford will have slightly different total makeups and ratios because plutonium extraction processing was involved at Hanford and Hanford also did not experience a meltdown. A meltdown can release different radioactive compounds than an operating reactor. These values for Hanford at least give an idea what people were exposed to and in what quantities.
Releases in the water:
The reactors required a large volume of water for cooling. These crude reactors did not have an isolated heat exchange system like modern nuclear power plants do today. Water was drawn in from the river, used to cool the reactor and then pumped into a holding pond. The water was held for up to 6 hours. This allowed some of the very short lived radioactive isotopes to die off, leaving the long lived ones were still in the water as they put it back in the river. This was kept top secret by the government while several terabecquerels of radiation were released into the river every day.
Radiation was measured hundreds of miles downstream at the Washington and Oregon coasts. As more reactors were brought online and their output increased the water contamination grew worse. No ban on fishing was ever imposed even though many years during the 1950’s and 1960’s the radiation levels in the river exceeded Hanford’s own limits where they were supposed to alert the public but they never did. Native American tribes downriver routinely ate fish from the contaminated river, not knowing the risk they were taking.
HEDR estimated that five radioactive substances accounted for most of the dose people received from the Columbia River. They are zinc-65, arsenic-76, phosphorus-32, sodium-24 and neptunium-239.
HEDR Estimates of Radiation Released into the Columbia River by Hanford, 1944-1971
Radionuclide Amount Released (curies) Half-Life
Sodium-24 13,000,000 15 hours
Phosphorus-32 230,000 14 days
Scandium-46 120,000 84 days
Chromium-51 7,200,000 28 days
Manganese-56 80,000,000 2.7 hours
Zinc-65 490,000 245 days
Gallium-72 3,700,000 14 hours
Arsenic-76 2,500,00 26 hours
Yttrium-90 450,000 64 hours
Iodine-131 48,000 8 days
Neptunium-239 6,300,000 2.4 days
Other radioactive substances such as beryllium were known to have been released but accurate amounts are not known. Beryllium was involved in a number of worker illnesses at Hanford.
Animals were experimented on at Hanford. Sheep and cows were fed radioactive feed to see how the radiation impacted their health, the meat and the milk of the animals. Sheep would be fed iodine 131 contaminated feed and then have their thyroids scanned. Dogs and even alligators were experimented on at Hanford. Years later a tank full of radioactive animal corpses was found at Hanford among the other radioactive waste.
The biggest single release ever at Hanford was the secret “Green Run” in 1949. The Green Run released an estimated 8,000 curies (296 becquerels) of iodine 131 over a two day period. The Green Run remains mostly a secret. The government released information admitting the event happened in 1986 but a large amount of critical information still remains classified today. Extrapolated information on the Green Run states that it was a secret US Air Force experiment to test their radiation detection technology. The Green Run was done soon after the first Soviet atomic weapons test. It is thought that the experiment was testing a technology that would detect plutonium production so the US could find Soviet plutonium production facilities.
The experiment was conducted by taking fresh (green) fuel. Instead of letting it cool to decay the radiation for 90-100 days, it was only held for 16 days. This short decay time created the large releases of iodine 131 used in the experiment.
The public was never informed of the release nor given any precautionary warnings that could have allowed people to protect themselves. They became an unwilling and unknowing participant in this secret military experiment.
Decades later it is still not known what official ordered the experiment or what military unit participated in the test.
Check back tomorrow for part 3, The radioactive releases and exposures at Hanford
Series bibliography and additional reading:
Hanford’s fallout: increased thyroid risks – Hanford Nuclear Site, Washingtonhttp://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, 1992http://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 Nationhttp://www.thenation.com/blogs/media-fix
Hanford Downwinders Group
The Hanford Downwinders Information Site:
Hanford environmental reporthttp://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/environmental/2009ar.pdf
Hanford thyroid CDC study
Scientist review of the CDC reporthttp://www.downwinders.com/files/htds_expert_report.pdf
National Acadamies of Science documents on Hanford
Physicians for Social Responsibility on Hanford and underestimated doses
Oxford journal on animal testing at Hanfordhttp://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/4/295.full.pdf
Animal testing at Hanford, carcasses found
Hanford and Idaho admitted research studieshttp://hss.doe.gov/healthsafety/OHRE/roadmap/experiments/0491docc.html
Hanford article – lots of datahttp://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_n3_v138/ai_9227959/
Data on downwinders, bomb tests data and Hanfordhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downwinders
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – Making Warheads
Downwind bomb tests Utah – results on lambshttp://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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