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Wildfires on the Hanford Nuclear Site have occurred in 1957, 1973, and 1981, 1984, 1998, 2000, and 2007. How many more have been near the site? The 1998 wildfire burned approximately 4,047 ha (10,000 ac). The 24 Command fire of 2000 and the Wautoma Fire of 2007 burned more than one-half the total acreage of the Hanford Nuclear Site. There is, as well, an ever-present risk of fires occurring spontaneously within the radioactive waste itself.
Official DOE video of Hanford 2000 fire http://youtu.be/lhBDnrDVyIQ
Official DOE video of Hanford 2007 fire http://youtu.be/zDgBUwhUAVE
Private videos of some of the current fires which are near but reportedly not on the site: https://flyingcuttlefish.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/wildfire/
Wildfires in the region of the Hanford Nuclear Site, 230 am MDT update.
Currently there are still ongoing wildfires near the Hanford Nuclear Site, but it is believed that they will be successfully contained. However, new ones popped up yesterday afternoon to the east, northeast. Although this appears irrigated, it didn’t stop the fire outbreak, meaning it could spread. See updates here: http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/index.php
Physicians for Social Responsibility point out: “Fires at Hanford pose another real danger… The July 2000 fire burned three radioactive waste sites and stopped just short of some major waste sites. Afterwards plutonium was detected in nearby communities.” http://www.psr.org/chapters/washington/hanford/hanford-and-environmental.html
In its report on the 2000 fire, the Washington State Dept. of Health said: “At five locations during the fire, results of plutonium analysis were elevated as compared to national levels and to DOE reported annual average levels from nearby communities. The EPA data showed that plutonium was measurable only for a single 24-hour period during the fire and was not detected in samples collected after that day.” http://web.archive.org/web/20150120051913/http://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/320-025_firerpt_e.pdf
Robert Alvarez noted in the Nation, 2001, that “Some of the DOE’s most dangerous nuclear wastes remain outside and unprotected“, including at Hanford. Referring to the 2000 wild fire, he says that “The Hanford fire hit the “B/C” waste disposal trenches… Airborne plutonium concentrations carried to the nearby cities of Pasco and Richland were 1,000 times above normal background radiation levels.” Furthermore, the wildfire “also came close to hitting a storage area with a large number of barrels containing flammable uranium waste chips. According to the notes of an internal meeting at Hanford in April, 1998, a single drum, once it ignites, would send flames as high as 30 feet.” Read the article “Nuclear Wildfires” as reprinted by Inlander here: http://web.archive.org/web/20160805091212/http://www.inlander.com/spokane/nuclear-wildfires/Content?oid=2173167
The Hanford Nuclear site is contaminated, so of course some radioactive materials become airborne with the smoke. The US DOE describes Hanford: “The solid wastes were buried in the ground in pits or trenches. Some of the waste was placed in steel drums or wooden boxes before being buried while some of the other waste was placed in the ground without a container to hold it. Depending on when the waste was buried, records about what was buried and where it was buried can be either very good, or in some cases, very bad. Besides the millions of tons of solid waste, hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid waste was also generated during the plutonium production days. These liquid wastes were disposed of by pouring them onto the ground or into trenches or holding ponds. Unintentional spills of liquids also took place” (USDOE: http://energy.gov/em/hanford-site )
Since the US government allows Americans to eat twice the amount of radiation in their food as allowed in the EU, and 15 times that allowed in Japan, it should come as no surprise that they pretend it is no problem. They continue to ignore that the US government funded BEIR report insists that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation and that increased dose is increased risk. Los Alamos nuclear lab itself has pointed to the dangers of the uniquely difficult to repair clustered DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation. Along with clustered damage, it makes the more common-place ROS damage. The EU succinctly states: “The formation of clustered damage distinguishes ionising radiation-induced damage from normal endogenous damage“. https://cordis.europa.eu/pub/fp5-euratom/docs/non_dsb_lesions_projrep_en.pdf It appears that it is impossible or close to impossible to correctly repair clustered damage, and that the best hope is that the damaged cell will die. Radioactive materials internalized through inhalation or ingestion increase exposure and risk.
What is the Hanford Site?
“The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclearproduction complex operated by the United States federal government on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington. The site has been known by many names, including: Hanford Project, Hanford Works, Hanford Engineer Worksand Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project in Hanford, south-central Washington, the site was home to the B Reactor, the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world. Plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the first nuclear bomb, tested at the Trinity site, and in Fat Man, the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan…” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanford_Site
Hanford is Located in a Semiarid Area
The Hanford Site is located in a semiarid area of south-central Washington state. With less than 18 cm annual precipitation , the native vegetation is shrub-steppe. The soils are generally highly erodible. However, when undisturbed, mature shrub-steppe plant communities effectively protect the soil from erosion, and are resistant to invasion by annual weeds.
Past agricultural and/or industrial activities have removed native vegetation over large areas of the Hanford Site. Annual weeds often dominate disturbed areas, predominantly cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and Russian thistle (Salsola sp.). Both species are highly flammable when dry. Particularly, cheatgrass promotes range fire by forming a continuous cover of vegetation that dries in the summer to fine kindling.
EFFECT OF RANGE FIRE ON HANFORD OPERATIONS
In areas dominated by annual weeds, fire removes vegetation and exposes the soil to wind erosion. Following the 24 Command Fire in 2000, it was common to find areas with 25 cm of soil eroded from the surface. Eroding soil created severe dust storms. Often personnel were withdrawn from activities in the field due to blowing dust. Blowing dust and sand also damaged filters and equipment. Loss of visibility caused by blowing dust closed roads and highways both on and off the Hanford Site.
Erosion killed perennial vegetation (grass, forbs) over many acres, allowing annual weeds, primarily cheatgrass and Russian thistle to increase. Proliferation of cheatgrass causes two undesirable conditions at Hanford. Cheatgrass has been identified as a significant factor in increasing frequency of range fire. Once cheatgrass is established, it displaces native species and reduces habitat quality. Past agricultural or industrial practices disturbed thousands of acres at Hanford allowing cheatgrass to dominate the Site for over 60 years.” http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/970008/
A 1999 DOE document notes: “The most recent and extensive wildfire on the Hanford Site occurred in the summer of 1998 and burned approximately 4,047 ha (10,000 ac). Previous fires occurred in 1957, 1973, and 1981, and 1984 (see Figure 4-22). The presence of non-native plant species and changing land-use practices have altered the frequency and severity of wildfires. Less frequent and more severe fires have reduced the ability of the native habitat torecover from fire, as well as the development of late successional shrub-steppe habitat.” http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/nepapub/nepa_documents/RedDont/EIS-0222-FEIS-01-1999.pdf
In 2008: “Since the CLUP was adopted in 1999, the Hanford Site (including Monument land) has experienced several major fires, most notably the 24 Command fire in 2000 and the Wautoma Fire in 2007. These fires burned more than one-half the total acreage of the Hanford Site, and destroyed or severely damaged much of the mature sagebrush-steppe habitat at Hanford. This habitat is in significant decline throughout the Columbia Basin, and is classified as Level III resource in Hanford’s Biological Resources Management Plan (BRMaP).” http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/nepapub/nepa_documents/RedDont/EIS-0222-SA-01-2008.pdf
Recent allegations of Dangerous Management at the site: “Hanford’s Dirty Secrets“: http://youtu.be/xWYL3s7SfWQ The Prime Contractor: “Washington Closure is a limited liability company owned by AECOM, Bechtel National and CH2M.” http://web.archive.org/web/20160316071655/https://www.washingtonclosure.com/about_us/mission/
The US DOE on what’s at the site:
The U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for one of the largest nuclear cleanup efforts in the world, managing the legacy of five decades of nuclear weapons production. At its peak, this national weapons complex consisted of 16 major facilities, including vast reservations of land in the States of Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington.
Nowhere in the DOE Complex is cleanup more challenging than at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington. Hanford made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River. Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks.
Plutonium production ended in the late 1980s. Hanford cleanup began in 1989, when a landmark agreement was reached between DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Washington State. Known as the Tri-Party Agreement, the accord established hundreds of milestones for bringing the Hanford site into compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.
After more than two decades of cleanup, considerable progress has been made at Hanford, reducing the risk the site poses to the health and safety of workers, the public, and the environment.
SITE OVERVIEW For more than forty years, reactors located at Hanford produced plutonium for America’s defense program. The process of making plutonium is extremely “inefficient” in that a massive amount of liquid and solid waste is generated while only a small amount of plutonium is produced. Additionally, all of the facilities and structures that were associated with Hanford’s defense mission must also be deactivated, decommissioned, decontaminated, and demolished. That environmental cleanup project is the work that approximately 11,000 Hanford employees are involved with today.
Crews responsible for Site cleanup are dealing with several different kinds of waste in a number of different forms, with many of the wastes being potentially harmful to people and the environment. Precautions have been taken so that the waste does not contaminate the air, the ground, the water table underneath the ground, the Columbia River, the people who are doing the cleanup work, or the people and environment near the Hanford Site.
Solid waste can be everything from broken reactor equipment and tools to contaminated clothing that a worker wore during the plutonium production activities. The solid wastes were buried in the ground in pits or trenches. Some of the waste was placed in steel drums or wooden boxes before being buried while some of the other waste was placed in the ground without a container to hold it. Depending on when the waste was buried, records about what was buried and where it was buried can be either very good, or in some cases, very bad.
Besides the millions of tons of solid waste, hundreds of billions of gallons of liquid waste was also generated during the plutonium production days. These liquid wastes were disposed of by pouring them onto the ground or into trenches or holding ponds. Unintentional spills of liquids also took place. Liquid wastes generated during the process of extracting plutonium from the uranium “fuel rods” were put into underground storage tanks. Just like with the solid wastes, while some records accurately describe the kinds of liquid wastes that were generated and where they went, some of the spills and the volume of the spills went undocumented.
Reactor buildings, support facilities, and auxiliary structures needed during the plutonium production days must also be cleaned up. For many of these buildings, the work requires crews to come in with bulldozers and other heavy equipment to bring them down. As some of these structures are either contaminated or were built using materials like asbestos, crews must take precautions to avoid being contaminated themselves or to avoid releasing contamination into the ground, the air, or the groundwater.
During cleanup operations, where the waste will end up after it is removed from the ground is based upon the kind of waste it is. A majority of the solid wastes, contaminated soil, and building debris will be taken to the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility located on the Hanford Site. This facility, known as ERDF, is regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and is basically a huge landfill. ERDF accepts waste in disposal areas called “cells”. Cells are built two at a time, with each pair of cells measuring 70-feet deep, and 500-feet by 1000-feet at the base. 2.8 million tons of waste can be disposed of in each pair of cells at ERDF, and once each pair of cells is filled up the waste is covered with clean dirt and a soil fixative to ensure that the waste will safely and permanently remain in the landfill.
Some of the more hazardous chemical or radioactive solid wastes are not taken to ERDF. For example, the fuel rods that came out of the reactors but never had their plutonium extracted are stored in a facility called the Canister Storage Building at Hanford. Ultimately, these fuel rods will be sent for permanent burial at a national repository designed to accept these kinds of materials.
Solid transuranic waste is the debris that is contaminated with plutonium or other materials that may remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. This waste, referred to as TRU waste, is securely packaged and is shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico where it will be permanently and safely buried.
Of the liquid wastes generated at Hanford, much of the waste that is currently stored in the underground tanks on the Site will ultimately be transformed into a stable, glass product in a process called vitrification. In order to vitrify the waste, it is mixed with glass forming materials and then introduced to high heat in order for the waste to bond with the glass. A facility is being constructed at Hanford which will perform this vitrification work. Once the vitrification process has taken place, the molten, glass-like material is poured into cylinders where it will cool and become solid. Ultimately, cylinders containing the most hazardous vitrified waste will be taken to a national repository for permanent burial. The cylinders with less hazardous waste are candidates for disposal in an Integrated Disposal Facility, or IDF. The development of an IDF at Hanford is currently being evaluated in the Draft Tank Closure & Waste Management (TC&WM) Environmental Impact Statement. Alternatives in the EIS evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with locating an IDF in the 200-West Area of the Hanford Site, or alternatively in the 200-East Area. No final decision will be made on the IDF (and no wastes will be disposed there) until after the final EIS has been issued and a Record of Decision (ROD) is published. The IDF would be regulated by the State of Washington Department of Ecology and/or US Environmental Protection Agency, based on the types of wastes that would be managed there to ensure that any waste disposed of at the IDF would not pose unacceptable impacts to the environment.
The liquid waste that had been poured onto the ground or held in ponds or trenches has long since evaporated or soaked into the soil on the Site. In doing so, the waste did contaminate some of the soil and is thought to have also created underground “plumes” of contaminants. A “plume” is kind of like an underground river where the contaminants join with the water that exists beneath the surface of the Earth. Many of these plumes move in varying speeds and move toward the Columbia River. Hanford employees are actively involved in projects designed to prevent any more of the contamination from reaching the river. Several different strategies are being used in that effort.
One strategy is simply to block the groundwater contamination from getting to the Columbia. Various kinds of barriers are placed in the ground which allows the clean groundwater to move through, while chemically altering any harmful contamination into a non-toxic form as it passes through. Another strategy is called “pump and treat”. Through this process, contaminated groundwater is pumped out of the ground and treated with chemicals. These chemicals serve to change the chemical makeup of the contaminants which render them harmless to the environment. Once the treatment of the groundwater is complete, the cleansed water is pumped back into the ground. Yet another strategy in dealing with groundwater contamination is called “biostimulation”. This is a new technology where crews pump materials like molasses and vegetable oil into the ground where tiny microorganisms in the soil eat the molasses and vegetable oil. The microorganisms then reproduce, and in doing so, they alter the chemistry of the groundwater and render the contaminants harmless to the environment. The process also prevents the contamination from moving any closer to the river.” http://energy.gov/em/hanford-site
Work done on some of the buried waste: http://web.archive.org/web/20160324114936/http://www.hanford.gov/page.cfm/TRU
“Federal Funds Authorized To Help Fight Washington State Wildfire
June 29, 2000
Washington, DC — Federal funds have been made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help Washington State battle the uncontrolled Hanford fire located in Benton County.
According to the agency, the state’s request for federal fire suppression aid was approved early this morning immediately after it was reported that the blaze had destroyed 25 homes and was forcing the evacuation of residents in the communities of Horn Rapids, West Richland and areas of Benton City. The fire, which burned across the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, had consumed nearly 50,000 acres of land at the time of the request.
Under the authorization, FEMA will pay 70 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs that are above $1,061,941. The figure, called a floor cost, is derived through a formula based on the state’s five-year annual average cost for fighting fires.
Federal fire suppression aid is provided through the President’s Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires when they threaten to cause a major disaster. Eligible state firefighting costs covered by the aid can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.
March 29, 2016 – 20:05”
http://www.fema.gov/news-release/2000/06/29/federal-funds-authorized-help-fight-washington-state-wildfire Why would they update this article from 2000 in 2016?