‘Hanford Nuclear Reservation’, just outside Richland, Washington
- The shortlink for this blog post is http://wp.me/puwO9-1Vh
(before midnight May 27, 2013: 8336 Counts in 3hrs 32 min = 39.3 CPM background radiation, completely normal a meter off the ground on clean surface indoor, at a motel in nearby Kennewick, WA.)
- Soundtrack for this blogpost: The timeless and updated ‘Radioactivity’, by Kraftwork, as brought at a No Nukes 2012 event in Tokio, Japan.
- In this blogpost, my attempt to grasp how serious it is that many of the Hanford Site’s underground nuclear waste storage tanks are already leaking.
‘The Hanford Site‘, as it is known now, is a mostly decommissioned nuclear weapons fission material production complex on the banks of the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington, operated by the United States federal government’s Department of Energy. Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project in the tiny town of Hanford in south-central Washington, the site was home to the B Reactor, the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world, and at the height of its humanity-threatening madness supplied plutonium for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. It is now the focus of a mind-bogling cleanup challenge.
The site has been known by many names, including Hanford Project, Hanford Works, Hanford Engineer Works or HEW and Hanford Nuclear Reservation (which I still think is the best name for it) or HNR. Location:
Plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the first nuclear bomb, tested at the Trinity site, and in the A-bomb used to annihilate the (almost entirely civilian) city of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, killing more than 60,000 human beings in a flash, and tens of thousands more in the minutes, days and years following the nuclear blast.
As part of my checking out what’s up with Hanford, I visited ‘Reactor B’ in the 100B area on a public tour – See my blogpost about that: “My visit to Hanford’s “Reactor B’, World’s First Full-Scale Plutonium Factory.”
My visit was not to drool over the science and the “amazing” engineering feat that was accomplished with the Manhattan Project, though, but to feel into this darkest of the darkest of humanity’s disconnect from the heart. (I intent to share some reflections on the non-physical dimensions of radioactivity at some point.)
Now about the radioactivity stored at Hanford:
- MUST WATCH: Reporters from Television station King 5 NEWS recently did an investigative report series on this extremely troubling nuclear waste site. Highly recommended*:
So, those unknown materials referenced in the Sept. 7, 2012 briefing (shared in the above TV report) were spotted during a photographic inspection conducted by technicians in the first week of August 2012 in Tank 241-AY-102’s annulus — the 2-foot-wide space separating the inner and outer walls of the tank.
The sample was tested and showed measurable amounts of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, two highly radioactive elements that are a byproduct of nuclear fission. Some Plutonium 239/240 and Americium-241 were also detected. A reference to the results in a Leak Assessment Report made public on Nov. 7, 2012 says the materials were registering 800,000 dpm (‘disintegrations per minute’, same as CPM, counts per minute), an extremely high level of radioactivity.
!–> That report: http://www.hanford.gov/files.cfm/Attachment_2_AY-102DSTUpdate_110712.pdf (In it, “River Protection” is the short name of the corporate contractor managing the cleanup operation: http://www.wrpstoc.com/ )
An excerpt from the report:
So, 45mR.hr “Window Open”… I suppose that’s 45 millieRem, which converts to 450 µSv (450 microSievert in SI units). I use my own Radiation Units page for these conversions)… ok, that’s high, but not insanely high for what this is (imo – and do read my DISCLAIMER). I’m not sure from what distance this measurement was taken.
(background radiation in the not-so-contaminated areas fluctuates between 0.05 and 0.20 µSv/hr, from what I could tell watching my Medcom Inspector Alert).
Now, for the Cesium-137, with a half-life of 30 years, dangerously radioactive for the next half millenium: 90.9 µCi/gm (microCurie per gram per minute)… what is that in the Si units Bq/Kg (Becquerel per kilogram), to be able to compare it more easily?
90.9 µCi/gm –> x60 = 5,454 µCi/g (per second, so it can be converted to Bq, which is always per second), which converted to Bq is: 3.363300E+006 Bq/g
To put these “202 million disintegrations per minute per gram”, in the SI unit Becquerel (disintegrations per second) and x1,000 for per kilogram, that translates to:
The stuff leaking out of the first wall of tank 241-AY-102 contains:
3,363,300,000,000 Bq/Kg of Cs-137 !!!
WOWZA! How much of that insanely radioactive goo is there in these double-shelled tanks? Including other longer-living isotopes, in 2005: about 2,960,000,000,000,000,000 Bq, according to this great overview document:
!!–> http://srnl.doe.gov/emsp/day1_overv/hanford-gaspl.pdf -> Recommended to get the gist of what’s now being dealt with by thousands of people working on the cleanup effort at the Hanford Site.
Consider the potential devastation if the leaking that has already seeped into the ground, and the disastrous consequences if the current leakage were to escape the second wall, were to reach the Colombia River…
So, just to grasp the seriousness of a tank like this showing signs of leaking: if you take the contents of these double-shelled tanks (2,960,000,000,000,000,000 Bq (data from last link: 296 E+16 Bq), which consists of a little more than 1/3rd Cs-137 with various other (some much worse) isotopes) and ponder it smeared it out over its surroundings at the contamination level of the Permanent Control Zone of Chernobyl (555,000 Bq/m^3 of Cs-137; so, for this example case with a mixture of isotopes, let’s say 1.5 million Bq/m^3, so that the Cs-137 would be at just above the highest Chernobyl Permanent Control Zone Cesium level); (meaning the actual contamination would be far worse)… this would terribly contaminate and render uninhabitable more than 760,000 square miles. (My fallout map comparison of Chernobyl versus Fukushima shows such contamination maps and legends for Cs 137 and Cs-134 for Europe and Japan)…. here’s the little calculation:
1.5 million Bq/m^3 = 1.5 million times a million Bq per square kilometer
Spreading the whole cocktail of these double-shelled tanks:
2,960,000,000,000,000,000 Bq divided by 1,500,000,000,000 Bq/km^3 = 1,973,333, km^3 which converts to just over 761,910 square miles. For comparison: Oregon 98,381 sq mi + Washington 71,300 sq mi + Idaho 83,570 sq mi, + all of British Colombia 364,764 sq mi, add up to a combined 618,015 square miles.
On top of that, the Hanford Site holds more than double when other storage tanks and solid wastes are also considered.
These big underground double-walled (and already beginning to fail) storage tanks contain enough radioactivity to utterly ruin the entire Pacific Northwest, and all waste combined at the Hanford Site, if not dealt with properly and timely, has the potential to practically render all of North America uninhabitable. The Hanford Site is among the most pressing challenges to be dealt with on this planet.
Hats off to the cleanup workers! (You can follow the progress on Facebook.)
——Added after original posting:——-
Shortly after I posted this, the AP wire send out an article by SHANNON DININNY on June 2, 2013, which was picked up by several papers, including the Register Guard and the Seattle Times. They make great additions to the above:
More related articles about Hanford and its effects:
- http://articles.latimes.com/keyword/hanford-nuclear-power-plant (–> h/t ENEnews March 1, 2014 Re. Anencephaly birth defect cluster near Hanford See more link suggestions in the comment thread, such as this study:
- The prevalence at birth of congenital malformations in communities near the Hanford site (American Journal of Epidemiology, 1988 Feb;127(2):243-54.)
- A Belgian study suggesting a link between radiation exposure and anencephaly: http://academy.sckcen.be/en/Your_thesis_internship/AllTopics/Effect-of-radiation-on-neural-tube-closure-and-related-congenital-abnormalities-816
- April 26, 2015 article in Tri-City Herald, By Annette Cary: “Boreholes should reveal some final pieces of Hanford reactor soil contamination puzzle“. Excerpt: “[…] More than 15 million gallons of contaminated water is believed to have leaked there. After the Cold War, about 2,300 tons of fuel irradiated at another reactor, N Reactor, was left in the K East Basin and nearby K West Basin […]”