30 November 2010

Blowing the Whistle at Hanford

The UW anthropology class recently listened to the story of Hanford whistle-blowers - Ed and Cindy Bricker. Although both worked at Hanford, Ed - a third-generation Hanford worker - was a nuclear technician and Cindy worked in public affairs. Their story is very interesting, and it is helpful gaining a perspective of Hanford from those who worked there.
Before learning more about this interesting couple, it's nice to refresh - or in case you did not previously know - on some of the logistics of Hanford. DuPont was one of the early contractors at Hanford. Fuel elements were reacted with solvents to extract Plutonium and Uranium. The set-up of Hanford involves the facilities being far enough apart from one another so that if something were to occur at one facility, there would be a minimum effect on other facilities. Because of this separation, there is also little worker interaction. From a sociological viewpoint, this seems to be put in place purposefully in order to maintain secrecy in Hanford. However, there is some connection in that the Plutonium and Uranium were removed to other facilities after running through processes i.e. the Plutonium Plant. Another plant was PUREX (Plutonium Uranium Extraction). At the time, it was thought that technology could solve anything.
Despite this structure, there have been issues of safety, as I'm sure we have all heard. Ed Bricker gave an example of his father being exposed to radiation coming at him; he managed to hide behind batteries, which blocked him from radiation. Before, Ed's father was pro-Hanford. His feelings in that regard did not necessarily change, but after this incident he was more involved with union workers.
Cindy is also a Richland native. She says that Richland natives follow the three H's: High School (Richland High School), Hanford, and Heatherhouse (a retirement home). Growing up, people were not worried about Hanford, but they were concerned that they could be bombed because of Hanford's existence. However, she added that Hanford is a self-sustaining area, and is insulated from the recession even now.
During his time working at Hanford, Ed began noticing safety issues. His wife didn't believe him, insisting she would know if there were any. Cindy was working in public affairs, after all. However, after strange occurrences began happening, she realized that he had been right. For example, someone tampered with Ed’s air hose, and he barely had time to rush to a safe room to gasp for air. If Ed complained, he could lose his badge, which would mean losing his job, going bankrupt, and then inability to work in a federal job again.
Ed eventually began reporting the issues to Congress and the press. He had a network set up with other employees to gain more information as well. Eventually, it was found out that Ed was the one leaking information, and Hanford investigators tried to see what he was up to. The investigators would listen to Ed's phone conversations. His son even noticed a red light on the ceiling in their house, which was found to be from a listening device that one can use from outside. There was even a Bricker War Room at Hanford, in which articles were posted. After Congress found out that Ed was being tapped, they finally put their foot down and furiously addressed the issue.
Now, Ed is a bus driver, and he is content with that. Although Ed's whistle-blowing caused tension between him and his coworkers as well as his supervisors, he stuck to his beliefs. It was amazing gaining the perspective of a previous Hanford worker. It is remarkable that one man was able to get the government involved in this issue. As we can see, it can be important to stick to one’s values even in the face of losing a job. I was surprised by the magnitude of danger to workers in Hanford besides simply being exposed to radiation. The narrative also gave me more of an awareness of the extent to which the DOE will work to remain secretive. I’d like to leave you with a question. It is not intended to be rhetorical, and I would like you to consider it as objectively as possible: After learning about Ed, do you feel you can put your trust in the DOE, especially in regards to their accountability and honesty in the clean-up of Hanford?

This post was written by Nazila Dabestani, a Medical Anthropology and Global Health Senior at University of Washington affiliated with Heart of America Northwest.

19 November 2010

Using Visual Media to Raise Awareness: Putting a face to the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site and its Environmental Health Impacts

Dr. Holly Barker, a visiting lecturer at the University of Washington, Seattle campus, is currently facilitating an undergraduate course centered on the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site. For ten weeks, forty students are researching the issue, listening to various perspectives in class and getting out into the community to raise awareness.

On Friday, November 12th, we had a special guest, Mike McCormick, who hosts "Mind Over Matters" on Saturdays & Sundays from 6 to 9pm on KEXP. He is also involved with Public Affairs matters for KEXP and expressed interest in helping students with their outreach efforts.

Students also presented a collaborative music project, which will be part of the 30 minute segment students are putting together for a special radio show on KEXP.

The Hanford interviews presented by Mike were extremely profound. The clip that impacted me the most is featured below. Watch it! He does a masterful job of capturing the human dimension of Hanford and its far reaching impacts on the community.

Written by Jacinta Heath, a University of Washington student focusing on environmental justice issues and the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site

Click here for Mike McCormick, "TalkingStickTV" Channel on YouTube to find more interviews.

18 November 2010

The Latest on What's Underneath Hanford: 10X the Legal Dose of Radiation

Thankfully, Heart of America Northwest led efforts to shut down building 324 and have it cleaned out and removed. As late as 2008, nuclear industry backers and USDOE proposed using the 324 Building for “reprocessing” High-Level Nuclear Waste. In the late 1990s and until 2001, USDOE was promoting use of 324 Building in support of the restart of the FFTF Nuclear Reactor, and again we led opposition pointing to past contamination and risk from Building 324. However, we never expected that leaks to soil were at levels more than ten times the level which will kill every individual in an hour.

In the early 1990s this building and all others in Hanford’s 300 Area dumped their untreated liquid wastes out a sewer line into a long ditch paralleling the Columbia River 800 feet away. The high radiation is apparently due to leaks from the sump for the sewer in Building 324. Heart of America Northwest successfully sued and organized to close the sewer and end dumping of untreated liquid wastes. Sadly, Washington Ecology and EPA sided with USDOE back then, and actually opposed our efforts to shut down the dumping of untreated liquid wastes.

Now, the question is how could USDOE have promoted use of the building for years without knowing about radiation levels so high in the soil under the building that they would kill in minutes??? What is needed Now: an emergency cleanup effort is needed due to proximity to the River and public, and an investigation as to how this was ignored or not found for years. This is going to be very expensive because of the incredible risk from the gamma radiation, and shielding needed. However, this comes at a time when Congressional pressure and the President’s announced response is to cut Hanford Clean-Up budgets in 2012. The waste should not be disposed at Hanford in landfills, it is so hot it should be treated as High-Level Waste, which is what it originated as.
- Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Highly contaminated soil found at Hanford
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

HANFORD — Workers have found a nasty surprise beneath a Hanford building just north of Richland -- highly contaminated soil from an undiscovered leak.

"This is extremely high radiation. Nothing else compares in the river corridor," said Mark French, Department of Energy project director for environmental cleanup in the river corridor, the 75 square miles of Hanford along the Columbia River.
Radioactivity has been measured at 8,900 rad per hour, which would be about 10 times the lethal dose on contact, according to Hanford officials. The building where the leak was found is about 1,000 feet from the Columbia River.

Read more from the Tri-City Herald here

07 November 2010

Radioactive Rabbit Killed at Hanford... Elmer Fudd at work

Where’s Elmer Fudd when we need him??? This story on another radioactive rabbit at Hanford has made news across the US. Heart of America Northwest notes: Radioactive Rabbit killed at Hanford was near town and the Columbia River… It is not likely that it was the only one or that it didn’t move over a wide area. It’s hardly the first, and won’t be the last. Heart of America Northwest has two concerns:
1) There’s a significant source of radioactive contamination in the vicinity which may be running into the Columbia via groundwater, or exposing birds (including owls and hawks which eat rabbits), and blowing into the air.
2) This is a warning about USDOE’s unwillingness to plan to remove wastes from 44 miles of unlined radioactive waste burial grounds and many more miles of ditches into which USDOE dumped liquid wastes. Picture three lanes of interstate highway running 44 miles. Now picture this is a ditch with waste fifty feet deep, and then try to justify never cleaning it up. Leaving waste will expose future generations to unacceptably high radiation risks – especially the Tribes who want to exercise their treaty rights to use Hanford’s resources (e.g.,fish,hunt gather plants).

Radioactive rabbit trapped, killed at Hanford
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS November 5, 2010 (Seattle times, Seattle P-I.com)
RICHLAND, Wash. -- A radioactive rabbit was trapped on the Hanford nuclear reservation, but there is no sign any people were exposed to the animal.
Washington state Health Department workers with the Office of Radiation Protection have been searching for contaminated rabbit droppings. None have been found in areas accessible to the public, regional director Earl Fordham said Thursday.
Officials suspect the rabbit sipped some water left from the recent demolition of a Cold War-era building used in the production of nuclear weapons, the Tri-City Herald reported Friday.
Contaminated animals occasionally are found at the nuclear reservation, but more often they are in the center of Hanford, far from town.
The rabbit trapped at the 300 Area caught the Health Department's attention because it was close enough to the site's boundaries to potentially come in contact with people - if it had been caught by a dog or if its droppings were deposited in an area open to the public.
Workers first found contaminated rabbit droppings last week in the 300 Area, said Todd Nelson, spokesman for Washington Closure Hanford, the Department of Energy contractor cleaning up Hanford.
Several rabbits were trapped and the one was found to be highly contaminated with radioactive cesium. It was killed and disposed as radioactive waste, he said Friday. Routine monitoring for radioactive droppings continues.

Read the rest of the article