A Closer Look at Hanford, WA

All DOE nuclear weapons facilities pose enormous risks to communities, aquifers, bioregions, etc. Let’s look closer at one example: the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Yakima country near Spokane, WA, and the Columbia River.

Hanford houses nine reactors to produce plutonium. The PUREX plant reprocessed irradiated fuel rods for weapons parts. In the 40’s and 50’s, some 440 billion gallons of contaminated liquids were discharged into the ground at Hanford, enough to create an 80 foot deep lake the size of Manhattan. Discharges into the air spread over a multi-state area. In addition to wastes already in the biosphere, Hanford has dozens of tanks of unknown liquids that are leaking or poised to explode.

Kay Sutherland, from the Hanford area, lost four members of her family to disease: 

 "The people in this area have been forced into poverty because they’ve had to retire in their 30s, 40s and 50s, too young to get a retirement, too young to get Social Security. They fall through the cracks, and they die." 
 Sutherland has had four miscarriages, her liver is enlarged, and she has had multiple tumors.
  She states, "I am a holocaust survivor from the American Cold War."*

The DOE contracted with British Nuclear Fuels Limited, Inc. (BNFL) to convert about 10% of Hanford’s most radioactive tank wastes into glass by 2018. The deal went sour on April 20th, 2000, when BNFL doubled the price tag to $13 billion, due primarily to financing costs.

BNFL is the same firm under investigation in England for political dirty tricks, public endangerment (secretly parking nuke trains in residential areas), and gross mismanagement of the Sellafield reprocessing facility.

Government secrecy has barred Hanford workers and residents alike from access to the real facts, appropriate health care, and a decent standard of living for decades. Until recently, all concerns from citizen groups have been consistently discredited and side-lined.

In April, 2000, a new study of workers at Hanford and three other DOE facilities confirmed that increasing exposure to ionizing radiation boosts the risk of multiple myeloma, a rare but often fatal cancer of blood-forming tissues. Especially at risk are people exposed later in life.

Older workers with cumulative radiation doses of five rem or more were almost three-and-a-half times more likely to die from multiple myeloma than workers at the same plants whose cumulative exposures were less than one rem. The current full-body occupational limit for radiation workers, unchanged since 1961, is five rem per year, severely inadequate in view of these and other study results.**

Despite all this, on April 20th, 2000, Congress approved an extra $9 million just for Hanford’s dubious Fast Flux Test Facility, in addition to its existing budget of $36.3 million for fiscal 2000. The DOE is conducting an environmental impact study to determine if the FFTF should be revived to produce medical isotopes, plutonium 238 for the space program and other research--or if it should be permanently shut down.


*Alvarez R., "Energy in Decay", Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2000, Vol. 56, No. 3, p. 28.

** Williamson D., "New Study Finds Multiple Myeloma Linked To Radiation Exposures Of Nuclear Workers", April 9, 2000, 919-962-8596.

Exposure Study of Hanford Workers, Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, January-February 2000, vol. 10, no. 1 pp. 27-35