FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 1.43.32 PM

Photograph by Tobin Fricke , distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

 

It’s been a toxic few weeks at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington. Not that this is exactly news — Hanford is the most radioactive site in North America and is thereby always toxic. But what is news is how dangerous and negligent the remediation efforts at Hanford continue to be.

The original Hanford Project, which manufactured plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb and over its forty years of operation produced 63 short tons of plutonium, is now home to the largest environmental clean-up in the country. The place is literally steaming with radioactivity. 56 million gallons of nuclear sludge currently sit in double-walled underground tanks built in the 1970s. This waste is awaiting a plant to be built, known as the Hanford Vit Plant, that can turn the nasty gunk into glass rods. The Vit Plant, to be constructed by Bechtel, continues to run way over its initial budget estimates and keeps being delayed. The plant, if it’s ever completed, will end up costing taxpayers over $30 billion. Meanwhile, those old holding tanks aren’t fail-safe. They continue to be a colossal problem for the environment and workers alike.

One of the tanks, known as AY-102, began leaking in 2012 and now another, AY-101, is purportedly well on its way. The Department of Energy, the agency in charge of handling Hanford’s nuke mess, says AY-101 isn’t leaking yet, but tells Gizmodo the tank is simply releasing “higher than normal readings for contamination.”

Ho-hum. Nothing to smell here.

The leak from AY-102, which filled in between the inner and outer wall of the tank, continues to be problematic with clean-up efforts ongoing. However, on Thursday, April 28, work to drain the leak was stopped after a foul odor was reported by workers. By Friday20 employees of Washington River Protection Solutions, the DOE contractor on the project, were tested for potential exposure to chemical vapors.

“The fact that these vapor exposures occurred outside the so-called vapor control zones — an area where workers are supposedly safe from exposure — illustrates the extent of ineffectiveness of Hanford’s worker protection program,” says Tom Carpenter, director of the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge. “Hanford officials responded with the same tired excuses that none of the samples of air they took were above permissible limits. Should we believe 20 workers who suffered nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath in the course of a couple of hours, or Hanford’s assurances?”

Good question.

Carpenter adds that Hanford doesn’t perform any real-time monitoring for dozens of toxic chemicals likely emanating from those leaky tanks. Nor does Hanford factor in the mixture rule, an OSHA-directive that requires the lowering of acceptable limits when multiple chemicals are present. In other words, Hanford workers are put at risk of chemical exposure and the DOE and its contractor don’t give a shit.

This isn’t new stuff for Hanford. In 2014 more than 40 workers suffered ailments caused by chemical exposures and last March 26 workers were sent to a hospital or clinic. Such accidents prompted Hanford Challenge, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, union Local 598, and the Washington Attorney General to bring legal actions in federal court to force the DOE to protect workers from these extensive hazards. Here’s to hoping those suits move along faster than Hanford’s clean-up efforts.

This piece originally appeared at The Investigative Fund.

More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 17, 2019
Manuel García, Jr.
Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
Charles Pierson
Sofi’s Choice
Gary Leupp
Epstein, Jane Doe, and Trump
Rebecca Gordon
I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed
Peter Bolton
In the US and Brazil, Two Trends Underline the Creeping Fascism of Both Governments
Michael Kidder
“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada
Steve Early - Rand Wilson
How Big Strike 30 Years Ago Aided Fight for Single Payer
John W. Whitehead
Sexual Predators in the Power Elite
Michael Welton
Teach the Children Well: the Unrealized Vision In Teaching and Learning in the Residential Schools
Khury Petersen-Smith
Iran’s Not the Aggressor, the US Is
Russell Mokhiber
Kip Sullivan and Dr. Matthew Hahn on How Value Based Programs Are Undermining Medicare and Single Payer
George Ochenski
A Fearless and Free Press is Essential to Our Democracy
Lawrence Wittner
Billionaires and American Politics
Dean Baker
Cheap Shots at the Trump Economy
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail