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Radiation spike near Hanford nuclear waste site ‘natural’ – EPA

RT | May 15, 2016

The US Environmental Protection Agency chalked elevated gamma radiation levels around America’s largest nuclear waste storage facility, the Hanford site, up to natural causes, but RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky has found a few inconsistencies in its claims.

RT has reported extensively on the situation at Washington State’s Hanford Nuclear storage facility since various leaks and injuries to workers were reported. An incident on May 5th covered by RT, when radiation levels in the area adjacent to the site skyrocketed, prompted a federal investigation.

However, following the RT report, a local newspaper urged its audience not to “believe everything on the Internet” in an article extensively quoting a statement from the EPA that claimed the elevated radiation levels had a natural cause and were not connected to the Hanford facility in any way.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Health agree that radiation from naturally occurring radon was measured on an EPA monitor,” the EPA statement reads.

“The scientists determined that the cause was a temporary elevation of radon levels from the natural decay of certain types of elements found in nearly all rocks and soil.”

The statement also stresses that the spike in radiation could not have been due to emissions from Hanford because the wind was blowing from the opposite direction at the time the measurements were taken.

“The Department of Health said that was not possible because the wind was blowing the wrong direction for the radiation to have come from Hanford at the time the reading was taken,” the EPA notes.

Yet RT America correspondent Alexey Yaroshevsky compared the graph of the radiation readings to wind maps provided by the US national weather service and discovered that the EPA’s findings may not be entirely correct, as the graph appears to show the wind circling around the Hanford site and the area where the readings were taken.

Meanwhile, health protection authorities seem to have quickly taken up the radon-related scenario, emphasizing that radon is common in the area, accumulating in places closer to the ground, and urging people with basements to get radon-measurement canisters to check their homes for excessive levels.

Radon gas is a natural byproduct of Uranium decay in the soil and considered a dangerous carcinogen that can cause lung cancer. Estimates state that outdoor radon levels cause some 800 of the 21,000 radon induced lung cancer deaths that occur in the United States every year.

However, according to a map of radon levels from the EPA’s own website, Benton County, in which the Hanford nuclear plant is located, has relatively low levels radon, even when compared to other American states.

The Hanford nuclear site, on the other hand, holds some 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks that were built between the 1940s and 1970s. Those who used to work at the facility have told RT that vapor incidents are common when radioactive waste is being transported between tanks, which happens often, as the tanks are wearing out.

READ MORE:

‘I thought I was dying’: Ex-Hanford worker gravely ill after inhaling toxic fumes

Hanford Site not ‘controlling what comes out of nuclear waste tanks to protect workers’ – public

May 14, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

Radioactive Contamination from Nuclear Waste Site Spreads in Washington

EPA alarmed by uncontrolled exposure risk

Sputnik – 23.02.2016

In November 2015, workers began excavating concrete drums filled with high-level radioactive nuclear waste that had been discarded after uranium fuel fabrication work in the 1960s. The site of the excavation, now a burial ground, is in the notorious town of Hanford, in the state of Washington, near the public highway, and known to be one of the most radioactive areas in North America.

The workers at the burial ground detected specks of highly radioactive material at the site on November 16. With windy weather forecast for the following day, the workers aimed to contain the spread of contamination. The team applied a fixture called “rhino snot,” designed to keep radioactive specks from going airborne.

However, the winds that struck on November 17th were worse than predicted. Gusts to 120 km/h (75 mph), radioactive particulates mixed with airborne dust in the air of the town creating a scenario ripe for nervous and respiratory health danger. Notably, the aerosolized radioactive material, which has a 100 year half-life, can have compound carcinogenic impacts if particles become lodged in the alveoli, the small air sacs in the lungs.

The exposure, according to official reports from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, predates a November 2015 incident when nearby residents were thought to have been exposed to radioactive particulates over a period beginning summer 2014.

Nonetheless, Bryan Foley, US Department of Energy (DoE) deputy project director for the site, reassured the public, saying that, “The workers and public were not at risk of exposure because of the spread of contamination.” The Washington State Department of Health echoed these assurances, stating that, to date, the spread of contaminated particulates is not a threat to the public, but that concerns persist of a later, more serious, spread of contamination due to the containment failure.

Environmental Protection Agency Hanford program manager, Dennis Faulk, took the DOE assurances to task, noting that, “the waste had high levels of radioactive isotopes.” Faulk questioned the diligence of DOE control measures, noting that high level waste, “does not bind well with grout.” The EPA has stated that the contamination “is a matter that is alarming and requires further investigation and discussion.”

The EPA has given the DoE six weeks to report on the contamination, the environmental factors that led to the event, and both preventative and remedial measures to limit public and environmental danger.

February 24, 2016 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Nuclear Power | , | Leave a comment

Nuclear War Theme Parks: Mass Destruction for the Whole Family

By John Laforge | CounterPunch | September 7, 2015

Plutonium was named after Pluto, “god of the underworld,” Hades, or hell. It was created inside faulty reactors, concentrated, and machined by US scientists into the most devastating and horrifying of all weapons. Photos of what the Manhattan Project’s plutonium bomb did to human beings at Nagasaki prove the point. There is radioactive blowback in the fact that the thousands of tons of plutonium created since 1945 is so dangerously hot and long-lived that, like the underworld itself, nobody knows how to handle it at all — except maybe to trivialize it.

Hoping perhaps to show that the bomb from hell can be transformed from a vengeful, self-destructive, nightmare demon, into a benign, peace-loving, fairy-tale prince, nuclear propagandists and their friends in Congress are establishing nuclear war theme parks — without the taint of mass destruction — at former bomb factories and nuclear weapons launch pads all across the country.

Tours are being offered at the “B Reactor,” on the Hanford Reservation in Washington State which in 2008 was declared a National Historic Landmark. Plutonium production reactors for the nuclear arsenal were sloppily operated there for decades, releasing large amounts of radioactive fallout and causing permanent tainting of groundwater which now threatens the Columbia River—cover it up, make it a destination.

A National Wildlife Refuge has been established at Rocky Flats, Colorado, outside Denver, where the machining of plutonium for nuclear bomb cores has poisoned dozens of square miles.

Near Fargo, North Dakota, the State Historical Society has acquired a deactivated Minuteman missile launch control center, dubbed it “Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site,” and opened it to tourism.

In South Dakota, a retired launch control center is now the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and is run by the National Park Service. With enough willful blindness — that if looked at squarely, might be considered a kind of devil worship — visitors may go underground and personally simulate a missile launch. “Satan laughing with delight.”

Outside Tucson, Arizona, you can tour the Titan Missile Museum which opened in 1986 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

At White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, six hours from Washington, DC, the Greenbrier hideaway was built by the Eisenhower Administration as a nuclear war fallout shelter for 1,000 people — including members of Congress and their families. The bunker came with a generator, a 60-day supply of food, a hospital, kitchen, dining room, waste-disposal, and a dental operating room. Of course, a nuclear attack on Washington would have rendered evacuation impossible, the airport a smoldering ruin, and the trains unworkable. Now deactivated and elegantly restored, the site is making money by charging visitors for tours.

In 2011, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recommended to Congress that a national historic park be established to honor the Manhattan Project — the secret program whose atom bombs killed 140,000 people at Hiroshima and 70,000 at Nagasaki. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said then in a press release, “Once a tightly guarded secret, the story of the atomic bomb’s creation needs to be shared with this and future generations.” Jarvis insults our intelligence by feigning ignorance of the vast literature concerning the development and use of nuclear weapons which is available in any good library — histories based on formerly classified documents that demolish the official government myth — that the Bomb “ended the war” and “saved lives.”

These nuclear war theme parks are part of a deliberate attempt to trivialize nuclear weapons and to dumb down popular understanding of their environmental and human health legacy. After employing hellish mythology to manufacture real massacres so vast that governments might quake, it wasn’t too big a leap for the same scientists to follow Hiroshima and Nagasaki with 16,000 human radiation experiments on US citizens, 100 atmospheric bomb tests, deliberate mass venting of radiation, intentional “test-to-failure” reactor meltdowns, and ocean sinkings of tons of rad’ waste and entire navy propulsion reactors. All this coldblooded recklessness severely and permanently endangers human, animal and environmental health, because radiation in the body in cumulative doses attacks the gene pool in multi-generational perpetuity. Enormous radiation releases by commercial reactors and nuclear waste sites — at Windscale, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, etc. — have resulted directly from the nuclear weapons program first unveiled in a show of butchery, and later peddled like laundry soap to an uninformed public as a “peaceful atom” that would bring “electricity too cheap to meter.” We now know the nuclear age will bring a never-ending due bill too gargantuan to quantify.

Last month, thanks largely to Senators from nuclear weapons states Tennessee and New Mexico, a Manhattan Project National Historical Park was officially authorized. Oddly, three proposed sites for this “park” are secret sections of the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tenn., off limits to the public.

In view of the fact that the Manhattan Project’s atomic bombings of Japanese cities were not merely unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary, the United States should be making formal apologies to the victims and their survivors in Japan, and offering reparations to them, not glorifying the planning, preparation and commission of mass destruction.

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | Leave a comment

Hanford Whistleblower Vindicated, Receives $4.1 Million Settlement

By Joshua Frank | The Investigative Fund | August 14, 2015

What a long, strange trip it’s been for engineer Dr. Walter Tamosaitis. Well, perhaps not so much strange as it has been heart-wrenching. Nonetheless, every once in awhile those who are maligned end up being vindicated. That’s exactly what happened last week for Tamosaitis, who has been entangled in five strained years of litigation against his former employer URS (now owned by AECOM). 

On August 12, Tamosaitis agreed to a $4.1 million settlement of his federal whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against Hanford contractor URS. While AECOM refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing in the ordeal, there’s no question it didn’t want to drag on the case that could well have made the contractor look even worse than it already did. URS was hired by Bechtel to turn the radioactive sludge at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington into glass rods. It’s proven to be a costly and complex task, and the longer the clean up drags on the more money the contractors make.

“We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated,” said Jack Sheridan, the Seattle attorney who represented Tamosaitis, “This settlement sends a message to whistleblowers everywhere that integrity and truth are worth fighting for, and that you can win if you don’t give up.”

In 2011, I wrote an investigative piece for Seattle Weekly, reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund, that not only looked into the very serious safety concerns raised by Tamosaitis at the Hanford nuclear reservation, put also exposed how his superiors plotted to silence him by removing him from his position and forcing him to work in an off-site, windowless basement. It was an egregious attempt to kill the messenger — a message that put millions of contract dollars at risk. 

What URS didn’t expect, however, was that Tamosaitis would refuse to go down without a fight. He openly spoke with me about a greedy management culture at Hanford run amok. He was candid in explaining that the Hanford cleanup was a cash cow for URS and its parent contractor Bechtel, the same company accused of bilking tax-payers over its botched Iraq reconstruction projects. As such, he accused them of putting profits above safety of its employees and the public. 

Tamosaitis was in charge of overseeing a sludge mixing project at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), where, if certain deadlines were met, Bechtel and URS would walk away with a $6 million bonus. Yet Tamosaitis wasn’t about to sign off on it, because the mixing process wasn’t working out. 

“The drive to stay on schedule is putting the whole [WTP] project at risk,” Tamosaitis told me in 2011. “”Not on my watch’ is a standard mantra among [DOE and Contract] management who like to intimidate naysayers like me. These guys would rather deal with major issues down the road than fix them up front … Cost and schedule performance trump sound science time and again.”

In 2011, Tamosaitis filed a federal whistleblower complaint under the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA). By 2013, Tamosaitis was let go for “lack of work.” Initially his case was dismissed by Federal District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who found that there was insufficient evidence to support his retaliation claim and that he didn’t have the right to a jury trial under ERA. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Judge Suko, stating there was “plenty of evidence that Bechtel encouraged URS E&C to remove Tamosaitis from the WTP site because of his whistleblowing, that URS E&C knew that Tamosaitis’s whistleblowing motivated Bechtel, and that URS E&C carried out the removal.”

The 9th Circuit also found that Tamosaitis indeed had a right to a jury trial. In July 2014, AECOM announced it would acquire URS and has since been pushing for a resolution. While no parties admitted liability, with a $4.1 million settlement, it’s clear who was victorious. Of course, the bigger issue is, will this set a precedent and help ensure that future Hanford employees aren’t afraid to step forward and voice concerns about public health and environmental safety?

That’s the hope, insists Tom Carpenter, director of the Seattle-based nonprofit watchdog group that keeps a close eye on all things Hanford. 

“This is great news for Walt and great news for the public. Walt is a hero who staked his career to raise nuclear safety issues that could have resulted in a catastrophe down the road,” Carpenter said after the settlement announcement. “His issues were investigated and validated, and those safety issues are being scrutinized and corrected. This settlement brings justice to Walt, and is a necessary step in the quest to address a broken safety culture at Hanford that has historically punished employees for bringing forward concerns.”

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Environmentalism | , , , | Leave a comment

Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion

RT | April 03, 2013

US residents near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may be in grave danger: a nuclear safety board found that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.

After Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) about the risks posed by the nuclear site, board members relayed their concerns about the potential for hydrogen gas buildup within the walls of a tank – particularly those with double walls.

“All the double-shell tanks contain waste that continuously generates some flammable gas,” the board said in a letter received by Wyden on Monday. “This gas will eventually reach flammable conditions if adequate ventilation is not provided.”

The safety board had previously issued a warning about their concerns, which have not yet been addressed. In September, the board sent a letter to the Department of Energy, claiming that there were no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. The letter, which outlines the concerns shared with Sen. Wyden on Monday, was declassified on Tuesday.

If the tanks were to explode, there would be flammable releases that would “have considerable radiological consequences, endanger personnel, contaminate portions of the Tank Farms, and seriously disrupt the waste cleanup mission,” the previously classified DFNSB report states.

Hanford’s double-shelled tanks contain some of the deadliest mixtures of nuclear and chemical waste left over from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been a serious cause of concern, since six of the facility’s tanks were found to be leaking about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. The Department of Energy discovered the leaks years ago, but has failed to address the problem.

Last September, the safety board recommended that state and federal officials more closely monitor the tanks and increase ventilation. Federal officials have allegedly taken those recommendations into consideration and are working on a plan to address the board’s concerns, the Associated Press reports.

But despite continuous problems and public health risks associated with the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, construction of a waste treatment plant has been delayed. Such a plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and would be crucial in preventing all of the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground.

The DFNSB hopes that discussing the very real possibility of an explosion will alarm Department of Energy officials and prompt them to take action. The Hanford site currently holds 56 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste that is  leaking into the soil. Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, believes there is no time to waste in regards to the cleanup process.

“The next Secretary of Energy – Dr. Moniz – needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track, and I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing next week,” Wyden said in a statement Tuesday.

The US government spends about $2 billion each year cleaning up the waste generated by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, about one third of which goes towards the flawed design and construction of the plant. The $2 billion also makes up about one third of the federal government’s nuclear cleanup budget, and costs are only expected to rise.

Although the DFNSB and Sen. Wyden have long been emphasizing the risks created by the plant, the Department of Energy has long failed to acknowledge the severity of the problem. And after the latest warnings about the very possible risk of a nuclear explosion, the department countered the report.

“All DSTs are actively ventilated, which means they have blowers and fans to prevent hydrogen gas build-up,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “These ventilation systems are monitored to ensure they are operating as intended.”

Wyden said he plans to ask tough questions during Moniz’s confirmation hearing regarding the future of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Betrayal of Trust on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation

By GINA MASON | CounterPunch | March 1, 2013

Living with radiation sickness is not on my bucket list and I would hazard that it isn’t on yours either. Nor is it what I have in mind for my children’s future. Yet our government continues to manufacture nuclear materials and unsafely store radioactive waste in clear violation of the public trust. Nowhere is this more visible than at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most radioactively contaminated site in the western hemisphere, where we now know radioactive sludge is leaking badly from at least six underground tanks. While Hanford is technically in Washington State, the management of this catastrophe is vitally important to the rest of the nation—indeed, the biosphere. Unfortunately, environmental disasters do not stop at city, state, or national borders.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is located on the 1,243-mile-long Columbia River and sits upstream from drinking water facilities for the Washington Tri-Cities area, tribal lands, and many other towns and cities before it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Built in 1943, this facility is home to the first plutonium production reactor.  Hanford is responsible for having manufactured the material used in the first atomic bombs, including the bomb that killed and poisoned scores of thousands in Nagasaki, Japan, 9 August 1945.

An environmental remediation legal structure called the Tri-Party Agreement governs the cleanup efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology, and the US Department of Energy. Bechtel, a construction and engineering firm, is currently overseeing the construction of a vitrification plant that will stabilize the worst of the radioactive materials with glass. Added to the Superfund list in 1989, the cleanup of Hanford is woefully behind its original 30-year schedule.

Recent news articles and Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s announcements have brought Hanford back into the national spotlight as the large tanks containing radioactive waste are leaking into the nearby aquifers at a reported rate of 300 gallons per day. Many of the site’s 177 underground tanks are losing radioactive liquid. In fact, prior to the latest news, the Washington Department of Ecology reported that the contaminated water could reach the Columbia in anywhere from 12-15 years. The US Department of Energy reports on the leaking tanks but never quite fixes them while the DOE Hanford website indicates nothing out of the ordinary. With many of the tanks holding a million gallons each, this is enormous and means the United States is producing a massive radioactive waterway. It is the government’s responsibility to deal with Hanford before its citizens suffer considerable environmental, health, and economic damage. Considering the rate of cleanup and the lack of public awareness, this is an almost certain fate. Furthermore, the threat of sequestration is risking even the slowest paced cleanup operations at Hanford.

When stacked against other environmental issues – timber clear-cutting, setting aside wilderness areas, and even plastic waste floats larger than Texas, the risk of radioactive contamination to our environment is infinitely more catastrophic. I feel that this issue demands our full attention. Unlike the Fukushima disaster only two years ago, the Hanford radioactive leaks are not the result of a massive natural disaster triggering an anthropogenic catastrophe. This is an event brought on entirely by our own human arrogance and mismanagement, demonstrated repeatedly by poor predictions about how safe it all is. If anything, our utter failure to clean up a terrible mess made way back in World War II and the Cold War shows our hubris in continuing to maintain nuclear weapons somehow believing we can control them. All it takes with nuclear weapons is one mistake and we are all only human. Mistakes are inevitable. The biggest mistake of all is to fail to dismantle the nuclear arsenal now and clean up the massive mess as quickly and safely as we can.

Under the Tri-Party Agreement, cleanup was scheduled to be completed by 2018 and has since been revised to 2040. This makes the specter of a radioactive Columbia River an assured nightmare without action from grassroots organizations and community involvement. This current trajectory is an absolutely unacceptable legacy.

It is not too late. We have the ability to alter the impending disaster by placing pressure on responsible government agencies, legislators, community leaders, and contractors to safely increase the pace of the cleanup operations—and to tell Congress to shift all $2.46 billion in nuclear weapons “modernization” funds to cleanup—or at least what’s left after sequestration. Now.

Talks have repeatedly stalled between agencies regarding the timeline of waste containment. We citizens are in a position to leverage public interest as a means to get the negotiating parties back to the table. 2013 has the potential to be the year that Hanford Nuclear Reservation makes a dramatic shift to move off the Superfund list in a quick and responsible manner. Join the affected tribes, local governments, and many others in demanding a fast, safe, and complete clean up. Write, call, or email your representatives. Donate five dollars to an environmental group working on this issue. Talk to people.

As citizens, this demands our attention. As humans, this demands our action.

March 2, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment