Hanford, Washington


"On January 16, 1943, Gen. Leslie Groves, the military leader of the Manhattan Project, chose Hanford, in eastern Washington.. for the world's first large nuclear reactor...

"Over the following forty-seven years.. [it] produce[d].. massive contamination... enough dangerous materials were dumped at Hanford to have "the potential to induce cancer in every person currently on the planet, 208 million times over."

"Spurred on by angry citizens, states, "downwinder" lawsuits and Congressional pressure, cleanup operations continued over the next decade... Now, however, the DOE is proposing to terminate its environmental mission at Hanford, the most contaminated area in the Western Hemisphere, as well as at other sites. Seeking to free up tens of billions of dollars for other military purposes, the DOE, in an Orwellian sleight of hand, is attempting to redefine more than three-quarters of its most dangerous radioactive wastes by renaming them as "incidental"...

""The people in this area have been forced into poverty, they fall through the cracks and they die," says Kay Sutherland, who suffers from numerous cancers and has seen disease kill five members of her family. "I am a Holocause survivor of the American cold war."...

"The legacy of Hanford is grim. Thousands of Indians eating chemically contaminated fish from the Columbia River near the plant have very high risks of contracting diseases... tribal children eating fish from the Hanford Reach have 100 times the risk of immune diseases and central nervous system disorders as non-Indian children...

"The DOE and its contractors blame metal mines in Canada... "During the fifty years of Hanford's operation, especially when the river was highly contaminated by the reactors, the site managers knew full well that tribal people were being poisoned. But they simply ignored their own data and considered us to be expendable," says Russell Jim...

"..About 80 percent of Chinook salmon, an economic, environmental and cultural icon of the Pacific Northwest, spawn in the Hanford Reach, and they represent a significant portion of wild salmon harvest in British Columbia and Alaska. Hexavalent chromium, made familiar to the public by the movie Erin Brockovich, has spread from the Hanford site into salmon spawning beds...

"In addition to the massive dumping, Hanford spread very large amounts of radioactive gases and particles over the countryside... researchers stated, "We found an epidemic of juvenile hypothyroidism amoung a population of self-defined 'downwinders' living near the Hanford nuclear facility"...

"The Bush Administration recognized early on that one way to free up more military funds for projects it wanted to pursue was to spend fewer dollars on environmental cleanups. The biggest savings, it concluded, would come from less costly burial procedures for high-level radioactive wastes...

"The single most expensive cleanup technology is vitrification, a complex process involving heavy shielding and extensive remote handling that converts long-lived nuclear wastes into glass logs for permanent geological disposal. In November 2001 Jessie Roberson, the DOE's Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, informed the agency's budget office that her top cost-cutting objective was to eliminate the need to vitrify at least 75 percent of the waste scheduled for vitrification. How? The department simply redefined away the hazards of the most dangerous wastes by calling them "incidental" -- meaning they can be mixed with cement and buried in shallow pits or just abandoned...

"The Bush Administration has been aided in its efforts to down-play environmental risk at Hanford by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has ties to the oil and chemical industries... a CEI report issued in 2001.. advocates that the federal government abandon the current nuclear-cleanup program as "economically wasteful and counterproductive.. [a] preferable course of action is to do little or nothing."

"Using terms like "risk reduction" and "cost savings," the Bush Administration and the DOE are thus starting to emulate the former Soviet Union, which unabashedly wrote off large areas of land, water, and people living near nuclear weapons sites... last year the Bush Administration abruptly canceled "long-term stewardship" planning by the National Academy of Sciences, signaling its intent to walk away from the DOE's environmental problems...

"Hanford is among some 169 heavily contaminated nuclear weapons production waste sites in twenty-eight states.. [they are] de facto "national sacrifice" areas" (Alvarez, Robert. "The Legacy of Hanford." The Nation, August 18/25 2003, 31-35).


Colby Glass, MLIS