NBC News, Feb. 17, 2014: ‘Bizarre’ Cluster of Severe Birth Defects Haunts Health Experts — A mysterious cluster of severe birth defects in rural Washington state [and] reports of new cases continue to climb. Federal and state officials won’t say how many women in a three-county area near Yakima, Wash., have had babies with anencephaly, a heart-breaking condition in which they’re born missing parts of the brain or skull. And they admit they haven’t interviewed any of the women in question, or told the mothers there’s a potentially widespread problem. […] nearly two dozen cases in three years, a rate four times the national average […] Susie Ball of the Central Washington Genetics Program at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, says she has reported “eight or nine” additional cases of anencephaly and spina bifida […] The agencies released a report last summer detailing an investigation of 27 women with pregnancies that resulted in neural tube defects in Yakima, Franklin and Benton counties between 2010 and 2013. […] Health officials originally were alerted to the problem by a nurse, Sara Barron, 58 […] A 30-year nursing veteran, she’d seen perhaps one or two devastating cases of anencephaly in her wide-ranging career [then saw 2 in 6-month period of ~180 total births]. […] At a regional medical meeting, there were more anecdotal reports. […] CDC and state officials refused to tell NBC News how many new cases they’d received in 2013 […]
A whistleblower who raised safety concerns at the US most polluted nuclear weapons production site has been fired.
Donna Busche, 50, was dismissed from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation on Tuesday morning after she filed a complaint about design and safety of an unfinished waste treatment plant at the factory, the Associated Press reports.
Busche worked for URS Corp., which is helping build a $12 billion plant to turn Hanford’s most dangerous wastes into glass. She has filed complaints with the federal government, alleging she has suffered retaliation since filing her original safety complaint in 2011.
The Hanford Site was created before World War II as part of the United States’ top-secret atomic bomb project. Now, it is the most US contaminated nuclear site located on the Columbia River in the state of Washington, with cleanup costs running around $2 billion annually.
The plant is trying to clean up 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons arsenal. According to AP, the waste is stored in 177 aging underground tanks, many of which have leaked.
KING 5 News, Nov. 1, 2013:Hanford whistleblower: ‘I was now the enemy’ […] [Dr. Walt] Tamosaitis determined that the mixers, as designed, would not be able to mix the waste sufficiently, posing a risk that heavy radioactive elements would collect at the bottom of the tanks and begin a nuclear chain reaction. The reaction, in turn, would generate large amounts of explosive hydrogen gas (a similar hydrogen build up at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan caused large explosions after the 2011 Tsunami damaged that facility). […] “The worst case scenario would be a criticality and trapping of hydrogen gas which could lead to a hydrogen explosion,” said Tamosaitis. […] URS moved Tamosaitis to another building where he was assigned to a makeshift office in the basement. He sat alone in a cramped space full of storage boxes, rat poison feeders and copy machines. He was not assigned any work and had no boss to report to. “The message was, ‘Don’t do what Walter did. Don’t raise issues. Shut up (and) do what we say,’” said Tamosaitis. […] The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board and the Government Accountability Office both issued reports highlighting Tamosaitis’ work. And in early 2012 Energy Secretary Steven Chu ordered a halt to WTP construction.
New York Times, Aug. 5, 2013: After Charles D. Varnadore complained about safety at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory […] his bosses moved him to an office containing radioactive waste. When an industrial hygienist recommended that either he or the waste be moved, he was put in a room contaminated with mercury [“visible mercury was in several places”]. […] His difficulties began in 1990, after he returned to work following colon cancer surgery. He found that his replacement had shortcomings in handling lab samples, and he pointed this out to his superiors […] he was given a storage room as an office […] The room contained bags and drums of radioactive waste, as well as bags of asbestos and chemical waste. […] “The only conclusion which can be drawn from this record is that they intentionally put him under stress with full knowledge that he was a cancer patient recovering from extensive surgery and lengthy chemotherapy,” the judge, Theodor P. Von Brand, wrote in his decision. […] Judge Von Brand sent the matter to the labor secretary, Robert B. Reich [who] dismissed some of Mr. Varnadore’s charges on the ground that they had been filed too late, and he dismissed others because he did not believe that they had been proved conclusively. […]
Perhaps Mr. Tomaisitis would disagree with these statements in the New York Times article:
Mr. Varnadore’s complaints also led to stronger laws and practices governing employees who dare to blow the whistle on powerful employers
“No other whistle-blower will ever be treated that way again,” [said Varnadore’s lawyer]
The first ever double-shell tank to have leaked at Hanford may be in far worse condition than anyone imagined. Hanford workers conducting routine maintenance on the tank Thursday were shocked to find readings of radioactivity from material outside the tank. Until now leaked nuclear sludge had only been detected in what’s known as the tank’s annulus – the hollow safety space between the tank’s two walls.
The tank, known as AY-102, has been at the center of a KING 5 investigation for months. The underground carbon steel vessel holds 865,000 gallons of the most chemically contaminated, thermally hot, corrosive and radioactive material at the site.
The new Secretary of Energy has been on the job only four weeks, but he made a beeline Wednesday to see his biggest headache for himself. Ernest Moniz went to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.Hanford made the plutonium for American nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project in World War II until 1987. Now, highly radioactive waste is leaking, and a project to clean it up has stalled.
The clean-up at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation costs U.S. taxpayers $2 billion every year. This winter, engineers discovered six new leaks of radioactive material from underground tanks.
“There’s something on the order of 1,000 gallons a year that are leaking now from these six tanks,” says Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The leak in a massive underground double-shell nuclear waste tank at the Hanford Site has grown significantly since the leak was first announced to the public last fall, according to sources who have seen new inspection video and photographs.
The tank — known as AY-102 — holds 860,000 gallons of radioactive waste generated during decades ofplutonium production at the southeastern Washington reservation.
The most toxic and voluminous nuclear waste in the U.S.—208 million liters —sits in decaying underground tanks at the Hanford Site (a nuclear reservation) in southeastern Washington State. It accumulated there from the middle of World War II, when the Manhattan Project invented the first nuclear weapon, to 1987, when the last reactor shut down. The federal government’s current attempt at a permanent solution for safely storing that waste for centuries—the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant here—has hit a major snag in the form of potential chain reactions, hydrogen explosions and leaks from metal corrosion. And the revelation last February that six more of the storage tanks are currently leaking has further ramped up the pressure for resolution.
After decades of research, experimentation and political inertia, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) started building the “Vit Plant” at Hanford in 2000. It’s intended to sequester the waste in stainless steel–encased glass logs, a process known as vitrification (hence “Vit”), so it cannot escape into the environment, barring natural disasters like earthquakes or catastrophic fires. But progress on the plant slowed to a crawl last August, when numerous interested parties acknowledged that the plant’s design might present serious safety risks. In response, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu appointed an expert panel to find a way forward. Because 60 of the 177 underground tanks have already leaked and all are at increasing risk to do so, solving the problem is urgent.
Engineers around the world have done a great job developing nuclear technologies to serve mankind’s many endeavors: medical devices, power generators, naval propulsion systems, or the most formidable weapons ever built, so formidable that they could largely wipe out mankind and its many endeavors.
However, engineers haven’t figured out yet what to do with the highly radioactive and toxic materials nuclear technologies leave behind. They leak through corroded containers, contaminate soil, water, and air, and after decades, we try to deal with them somehow, but mainly we’re shuffling that problem to the next generation. The enormous sums coming due over time were never included in the original costs. We’re not even talking about an accident, like Fukushima, whose costs will likely reach $1 trillion, but about maintenance and cleanup.
For example, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, the largest, most daunting environmental cleanup project in the US. More than 11,000 people work on it. Nine relatively small reactors on that property produced plutonium, starting in 1943 through the Cold War. In 1987, the last reactor was shut down. What remains are various structures, such as the evocatively named “Plutonium Finishing Plant” (aerial photo: red “X” marks denote sections to be demolished) or the “Plutonium Vault Complex” that stored plutonium for nuclear weapons (photo of corridor).
Buried underground are 177 tanks containing 56 million gallons of highly radioactive and toxic waste. The 31 oldest tanks, made of a single layer of now rust-perforated carbon steel, have been leaking highly radioactive and toxic sludge into the ground for decades.
The government may have an answer to the growing nuclear waste problem in Washington State. But now, that solution may be creating problems of its own.The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the nation’s largest and most contaminated waste site. Barrels that should have been put out of service 50 years ago are still in use, and they are leaking.
After touring the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the best way to deal with the leaking nuclear waste is to send some of the toxic material somewhere else.”Frankly, it’s the only option other than just to allow this material to leak into the topsoil of the State of Washington for decades,” Inslee said.
And now for a quick lesson in government spending: in the 1940s the federal government created the now mostly decommissioned Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. During the Cold War, the project was expanded to include nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes, which produced plutonium for most of the 60,000 weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Sadly, many of the early safety procedures and waste disposal practices were inadequate, and government documents have since confirmed that Hanford’s operations released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the Columbia River.
The weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, but the decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons of high-level radioactive waste, an additional 25 million cubic feet of solid radioactive waste, 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater beneath the site and occasional discoveries of undocumented contaminations that slow the pace and raise the cost of cleanup. The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup. The government spends $2 billion each year on Hanford cleanup — one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally. The cleanup is expected to last decades. It turns out that as Krugman would say, the government was not spending nearly enough, and moments ago Governor Jay Inslee said that six underground radioactive waste tanks at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site are leaking.
“Central to that cleanup is the removal of millions of gallons of a highly toxic, radioactive stew — enough to fill dozens of Olympic-size swimming pools — from 177 aging, underground tanks. Many of those tanks have leaked over time — an estimated 1 million gallons of waste — threatening the groundwater and the neighboring Columbia River, the largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest.”
The long-delayed cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site became the subject of more bad news Friday, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a radioactive waste tank there is leaking.
The news raises concerns about the integrity of similar tanks at south-central Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation and puts added pressure on the federal government to resolve construction problems with the plant being built to alleviate environmental and safety risks from the waste.
The tanks, which are already long past their intended 20-year life span, hold millions of gallons of a highly radioactive stew left from decades of plutonium production for nuclear weapons.
More than 10 years into the job, Bechtel National Inc. has been described as incompetent to complete the $12.2 billion nuclear waste treatment plant at Hanford, Wa., the nation’s largest radioactive waste site, according to an internal Department of Energy memo.In the Aug. 23 memo, the DOE official responsible for supervising engineering at the facility, Gary Brunson, calls for Bechtel to be immediately removed as the design agent for the novel Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), which was supposed to begin operation last year.
Brunson lists 34 “brief examples” of issues in which Bechtel’s design advice was factually incorrect, technically flawed, unsafe, or more costly than alternatives.
“The number and significance of these issues indicate that Bechtel National Inc. is not competent to complete their role as the Design Authority for the WTP, and it is questionable that BNI can provide a contract-compliant design as Design Agent,” Brunson writes in the memo.
When news broke last week that radioactive material had been found outside of the inner containment wall of a double-hulled tank at the nuclear waste cleanup site in Hanford, Wa, most reports characterized the contents of the tank as “radioactive waste.”But that’s more a category than a description.
The Energy Department has been eager to find out exactly what’s in the tank, which received wastes from leaky single-walled tanks and from more than a half dozen facilities at the Hanford site, including nuclear reactors, plutonium processing plants, a PUREX plant, and laboratories.
DOE funded many studies to analyze the chemical compounds in the tank, determine whether they could corrode the stainless-steel walls, and to anticipate the effects of a spill. Here’s some of what those studies found:
A discovery at the Hanford nuclear reservation throws into question the integrity of the double-walled steel tanks where radioactive waste is being temporarily stored.
As part of the biggest, costliest environmental cleanup in the nation’s history — disposing of 53 million gallons of radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation — one thing was supposed to be sure: Toxic waste stored in sturdy, double-wall steel tanks wasn’t going anywhere.
Hanford officials have settled on a plan to clean up what may be the most highly radioactive spill at the nuclear reservation.
It depends on calling back into service the 47-year-old, oversized hot cell where the spill occurred to protect workers from the radioactive cesium and strontium that leaked through the hot cell to the soil below.
Radioactivity in the contaminated soil, which is about 1,000 feet from the Columbia River, has been measured at 8,900 rad per hour. Direct exposure for a few minutes would be fatal, according to Washington Closure.
While the 2011 earthquake and worries surrounding Fukushima have brought the threat of radioactivity back into the public consciousness, many people still don’t realize that radioactive contamination is a worldwide danger. Radionuclides are in the top six toxic threats as listed in the 2010 report by The Blacksmith Institute, an NGO dedicated to tackling pollution. You might be surprised by the locations of some of the world’s most radioactive places — and thus the number of people living in fear of the effects radiation could have on them and their children.
10. Hanford, USA
The Hanford Site, in Washington, was an integral part of the US atomic bomb project, manufacturing plutonium for the first nuclear bomb and “Fat Man,” used at Nagasaki. As the Cold War waged on, it ramped up production, supplying plutonium for most of America’s 60,000 nuclear weapons. Although decommissioned, it still holds two thirds of the volume of the country’s high-level radioactive waste — about 53 million gallons of liquid waste, 25 million cubic feet of solid waste and 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater underneath the area, making it the most contaminated site in the US. The environmental devastation of this area makes it clear that the threat of radioactivity is not simply something that will arrive in a missile attack, but could be lurking in the heart of your own country.
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