Nov 10, 2010

Hanford & the Atomic Age

I feel as though I can bring a lot to the table on this week's subject of the Atomic Age.  I'd like to center my focus on the Hanford site in Richland, Washington.  I was raised my entire life in a small town right next to Richland.  My grandpa worked at Hanford, my dad works at Hanford, and for the past seven years or so, I've worked in a national laboratory right next to Hanford and I've been to the site many times for various work tasks over the years.

Hanford helped produce approximately 2/3 of the total plutonium in our nation for approximately 40 years.  The government opened the area and brought in approximately 50,000 people.  This established what is now known as the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick).  I highly recommend watching this seven minute BBC documentary on the town's pride in nuclear past.

Currently and for the next twenty years or so extensive cleanup is being conducted on the site.  Nuclear waste was stored in multiple single-shelled tanks under the ground in the area.  In August of 1991 an official report was sent to the Government regarding those tanks leaking radioactive waste into the environment.  Now each of those tanks have been replaced with double-shelled tanks and the waste transported into them.  Current research being done for the cleanup at the moment is the science of vitrification.  Vitrification is essentially turning unstable nuclear waste mostly in the liquid form and solidifying it into a stable, black glossy glass that can then be held and played with or whatever else you want to do with it.  I've held chunks of vitrified nuclear waste in my own hands!  Hopefully none of you say "so that explains a lot."

The Hanford area is depicted in the image highlighted below.  As you can see it's clearly a dead area and is somewhat surrounded by agriculture

In the image below (taken from Google maps), you can see the roads and buildings which once existed at Hanford.  These have long been torn down and cleanup continues at the Hanford Site.  

This next image shows both the National Laboratory(The green area at the south portion of the picture) where I work and a small section of Hanford (North on the picture).  This particular segment of Hanford is called the 300 area and within the last five years, the majority of the buildings you can somewhat see at the top of the image are completely taken down.  I've helped clean out two to three of them and there's a lot of history in them as well as hazardous materials.
As for my experience growing up near Hanford, we never really worried about the radioactivity.  Most of the people in my home town works there and everyone is comfortable with everything.  We had a pet cat show up at our house years ago and we nick-named her Hanford because she had three extra toes on each foot.  We liked to say she got a taste of the radioactive waste which ultimately caused her mutation.  Glowing green and being radioactive is tossed around light-heartily by the community.

Let me know if you have any questions regarding Hanford.  I'd love to answer to the extend that I know.

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