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Hanford To Fukushima: Part 1

This is part 1 of a 4 part series about the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State.  We hope the series will help those in Japan achieve a better understanding of nuclear releases and be able to benefit from the experiences of the victims of Hanford as they deal with their own current circumstances related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

Part 1: Hanford’s History
The Hanford nuclear site was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project tasked with quickly creating a viable nuclear bomb during WWII. Hanford is located in south central Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. The site was selected for the unique terrain and sparse population that suited it for the top secret project. 

The first full scale plutonium production reaction in history was the “B reactor”. Plutonium created at Hanford was used in the Trinity test detonation done on US soil and in Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki Japan. The DuPont Company designed and built the B reactor and worked with the US government and military to construct the WWII phases of Hanford. The B reactor began construction in August 1943 and produced its first plutonium on November 6, 1944. Additional reactors came online and by April of 1945 shipments of plutonium soon produced enough material for bomb creation. These reactors dumped radioactive water directly into the river.

Fuel slugs were moved by rail to chemical separation plants called Canyons. The dangerous process was done remotely. As the Canyon began producing plutonium the equipment became so radioactive humans could not be in contact with it. The plutonium extraction also left behind a large amount of highly radioactive nuclear fuel to dispose of. The Canyon plants ran without any filtration on their exhaust stacks during the early years, with the gradual addition of filtration systems later on. The plutonium production released radioactive iodine 131 directly into the air.

Plutonium Processing Plant at Hanford

Through this period Hanford and the Manhattan Project were top secret. Fewer than 1% of the workers at Hanford knew they were working on nuclear weapons. The majority of the workers were given only enough information to do their job in a compartmentalized manner. Workers were informed of the true nature of their combined work after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

General Electric (GE) took over Hanford as the chief contractor in September of 1946. During the Cold War Hanford expanded to 9 reactors and 4 plutonium processing factories. This complex produced most of the 60,000 weapons in the US nuclear arsenal.

The reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War but left 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste on site in 177 underground tanks. Over the production years at Hanford 57 tons of plutonium were created. All of the waste is highly radioactive and produces explosive gasses that need to be vented to prevent massive explosions. These tanks are now many decades past their design life and up to 1/3 of them are now leaking. The tank complex is only a few miles from the Columbia River.

Somewhere between 1 million to 10 million gallons of this deadly waste has leaked from the tanks into the groundwater and Columbia River. Safely stabilizing the waste in these tanks and preventing more runoff has become a major national project. It is the nations most contaminated nuclear site with a $50 billion dollar clean up budget. The clean up may take up to 100 years with a projected total cost of $130 billion dollars.

Check back tomorrow for part 2, The radioactive releases and exposures at Hanford


Series bibliography and additional reading:
Hanford’s fallout: increased thyroid risks – Hanford Nuclear Site, Washington

Hanford Nuclear Site Wiki

Members of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments November 6, 1994 “An Analysis of the Green Run

Green Run Wikipedia Entry

Hanford Challenge

NYT Radiation Flowed 200 Miles to Sea, Study Finds Published: July 17, 1992

Hanford Animal Studies of Radioiodine Radiat Prot Dosimetry (1995) 60(4): 295-305R.O. McClellan

Meeting about beryllium exposure set for Monday By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

The release of radioactive materials at Hanford

US to access the harm from Hanford

Tri Cities Washington Wiki,_Washington

Physicians for Social Responsibility

US to access harm from Hanford

Fukushima 1 Nuke Plant: 154 Terabecquerels per day, every day

Greg Mitchell, Countdown To Hiroshima – Article Series at The Nation

More Reading:

Hanford Downwinders Group

Hanford downwinders

Hanford Challenge:

The Hanford Downwinders Information Site:

Downwinders United:

Hanford environmental report

Hanford thyroid CDC study

Scientist review of the CDC report

National Acadamies of Science documents on Hanford

Physicians for Social Responsibility on Hanford and underestimated doses

EPA decontamination

Oxford journal on animal testing at Hanford

Animal testing at Hanford, carcasses found

Hanford and Idaho admitted research studies

Hanford article – lots of data

Data on downwinders, bomb tests data and Hanford

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – Making Warheads
Google Books

Hanford cover ups

Radiation releases

Downwind bomb tests Utah – results on lambs

Nat Cancer Inst on iodine cancers

Iodine uptake into cows milk

Environmental data study – fish – veggies etc

Heart of America Northwest – Hanford Cleanup

Hanford Watch

Community-Based Participatory Health Survey of Hanford, WA, Downwinders: A Model for Citizen Empowerment

FDA iodine guide

Wiki on protective iodine

WHO rad iodine standards

CRIIRAD – iodine ingestion totals

Thyroid Cancer: a comprehensive guide to clinical management
Google Books

Secret Fallout online by Ernest Sternglass with a section on Hanford:

Killing Our Own online by Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon

Some Hanford incidents:

Hanford environmental testing Safety Security





Photos of Hanford

documents FOIA

Admin records, public info

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