The ongoing nuclear issues in Japan have sparked renewed domestic concerns about our own nuclear power plants and their relative safety. One site, in particular, recently came back into the spotlight when Der Spiegel posted an article about it entitled America's Atomic Time Bomb: Hanford Nuclear Waste Still Poses Serious Risks, By Marc Pitzke in New York. From the article:
Fifty-two buildings at Hanford are contaminated, and 240 square miles are uninhabitable due to the radioactivity that has seeped into the soil and ground water: uranium, cesium, strontium, plutonium and other deadly radionuclides. Altogether, more than 204,000 cubic meters of highly radioactive waste remain on site -- two-thirds of the total for the entire US.
In one area, discharges of more than 216 million liters of radioactive, liquid waste and cooling water have flowed out of leaky tanks. More than 100,000 spent fuel rods -- 2,300 tons of them -- still sit in leaky basins close to the Columbia River.
The cooling water for the facilities came from that river. Until 1971, it was secretly pumped right back into it after only a minimum amount of treatment. High radiation levels were measured 250 miles (402 kilometers) further west, where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific. It was mostly Native Americans who ate the poisoned fish.
Note the last line: It was mostly Native Americans who ate the poisoned fish. That would make it yet another issue in a potentially long line of issues that Native Americans have with our government's manner of handling important issues. [See also: Klamath fish kill and New Orleans for additional examples of government oversight falling down on the job.]
Anywho...again, from Der Spiegel:
On December 3, 1949, Hanford physicists released a highly radioactive cloud through the smokestack of the so-called T-Plant, the world's largest plutonium factory at the time. The radiation was almost 1,000 times more than what was released during the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, the worst nuclear accident in American history. Fallout from the experiment, which was called "Green Run," drifted all the way to California. People wondered why they suddenly got sick.
Studies would eventually show that some babies at Hanford were radiated twice as much as the children of Chernobyl. Before the "Green Run," Tom Bailie, the 2-year-old son of a farmer loved to play in the fields. But then he suffered an inexplicable paralysis; later, he wouldn't be able to father children. His entire family died of cancer.
But it wasn't until 1986 that Bailie, with the help of a dogged reporter from the Spokesman Review, a regional newspaper, began to figure out why. It was the beginning of what would turn out to be a decades-long fight between the radiation victims and the US government. The victims sued the government and forced it to open its secret files. Some of the lawsuits have been consolidated into class-action suits and are still ongoing today.
Lovely, and quite telling about where our nation's priorities are - at least, from the perspective of the power brokers.