This is part 3 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 3: Hanford cover ups and secrecy
At the start of Hanford it was part of the top secret WWII Manhattan Project. The military at Hanford adopted a security system known as compartmentalization. Workers were told only what they needed to know to do their job and purposely did not know anything about other parts of the plant or the work going on.
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima workers were informed of their involvement in the bomb and rumors began to fly. One food service worker, Harry Petcher upon finding out said “When the bombs were dropped my recollection was, God, is that what we were doing here? Did we get poisoned??” Hanford officials told the workers the amounts of radiation released were totally harmless.
During World War II the urgency of the Manhattan Project put tremendous pressure on the staff at Hanford, but after the Japanese surrender the levels of secrecy and also the risks the workers and public were exposed to had rather murky reasoning. One possibility has been brought up by some historians that Japan had already prepared to surrender and only surrendered to the US after negotiations with the Soviets broke down. This historical theory makes the bombings more about the beginnings of the cold war and less about ending WWII. This could explain why Hanford continued under heavy secrecy.
Workers were under great pressure to not question or say anything. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) were heavily involved in workplace rumor control and potential information leaks. Asking too many questions or talking too freely about goings on at Hanford could lead to a swift dismissal of the worker. Asking too many questions was socially unacceptable.
Strange things happened in the area over the years. Alligators escaped from the animal lab into the river. One was later caught by a local fisherman who had it taxidermied. Hanford officials found out, found the trophy displayed at a local store and confiscated it. Radioactive flies set off sensors, it took days for security staff to determine it was the flies causing the readings.
After the war ended Hanford was transferred to civilian control but kept the top secret rules and procedures. Rumors about Hanford’s radiation danger began circulating by 1945. In the 1950’s and 1960’s local media began to ask questions and some accidents were exposed.
Officials at Hanford always knew that people would file lawsuits once they knew what Hanford was doing. Hanford did have exposure limits which were often ignored, accidents happened, scientists didn’t fully understand the implications of some of what they were doing only to later learn the danger it posed. Instead of trying to change things at Hanford, more cover up happened. Government and private sector officials at Hanford colluded to cover up the nature and extent of what was going on and the impact on the public. In later years officials would change how or where samples were collected in order to make releases appear to be less than they really were. Scientists that worked for companies hoping to secure contracts with the Atomic Energy Commission would give favorable scientific statements about Hanford.
Hanford officials knew some of the risk, they tracked the weather to assure radioactive emissions would blow away from the plant. Much is still not known about the events at Hanford during the production years. With both WWII and the Cold War over, claims of national security seem less valid.
Check back tomorrow for part 4, 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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