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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Hanford and Fort Mac...Nukes and Tar Sands

When I was a kid, the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington state was in the news a lot. This was the first time in my young life that I heard the term "down winder."
The Hanford site was part of the WWII Manhattan Project, and was the very first producer of plutonium for atom bombs. In the rush to build a nuclear device before the Nazis, the US government took big risks in the development of the program.

For starters, there wasn't really a good plan for disposing of all the waste materials from all the activities at the site. Some of the liquid nuclear waste was just parked out in the desert in 45 gal. steels drums. Some of the solid waste was buried. ( if you can't see it...) Some was stored in huge water filled tanks that were not capped.
 In the early years, a great number of workers were exposed to huge doses of radiation from the processing, disposal, leaks, discharges and accidents. The uranium miners themselves ( mostly native Americans ) were not adequately protected from the hazardous exposures they faced.



The everyday operation of Hanford sucked up vast quantities of water from the Columbia River. ( Hanford was built right beside the river for easy access ) The river water was used for cooling the nuclear reactor to prevent over heating and melt down. The trouble with that idea was...in those days, with that system...the water that left the plant and was returned to the river was full of radioactive pollutants.

All the all the downstream users of the Columbia River, throughout Washington State and Oregon got the poison delivered right to their door. This is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.
Bad enough that Hanford produced most of the plutonium for 60,000 nuclear weapons from five processing plants.
60,000 nuclear devices????what fucking war were these guys thinking of getting into?

The big push to be a nuclear tough guy resulted in the production of 53 million gallons of high level nuclear waste in liquid form, and 25 million cubic feet of solid waste. The Hanford sit also released radioactive debris into the air that drifted to surrounding farmland, and into Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

Huge areas of land down wind of the plant were affected by the air borne radiation emissions, and every user of the Columbia River down stream of the plant was using toxic water. Massive lawsuits were brought against the government, and despite overwhelming evidence....no serious headway has been made. Of course the good part about dragging out the court process, is that the injured parties will just die off and not be a bother any more.
Another interesting tidbit in this era of water scarcity, is that the decades long leakage from the Hanford plant has contaminated a 270 billion gallon underground aquifer. So to wrap this up in a nice pink bow, the Hanford Nuclear site has done a fantastic job of poisoning the people that built it, plus the air, river, farmland and a massive underground water source. All in the name of national security.
I'm sure that that's what the US military means by "acceptable losses"
The clean-up process at Hanford is ongoing, controversial and phenomenally expensive. Hanford also sports a fully functioning nuclear generating station called the Columbia Generating Station.


The best part is, that in the true form of all that is Homer Simpson and America, you can go online and book a tour of the Hanford site.
"Hey kids pack your Ipods and Geiger counters, we are going to the site of a nuclear disaster this summer!!"

But wait!..Why is the title of this post mentioning the tar sands? Excellent question, I'm glad you asked.
Now before we go any further, Stop and read this note.
Regarding the tar sands, MY personal opinion, is that the companies that that went in to extract the oil from  the Fort Mac area got the shock of their lives when it turned out to be MUCH  more difficult and expensive than they thought. It must have been a tad embarrassing to get sideswiped by tailings ponds that wouldn't dry up, and the abrasive bitumen that destroyed all the process machines that it came in contact with. I know that we need oil in this modern moment, but I am going to compare the need of WWII America, with the need of today's Canada.

First off, take a peek at these images. The first one is the Hanford plant built on the Columbia River.




The next image is the Suncor plant, built beside the Athabasca River, in northern Alberta.



My point ( and I do have one ) Here we are in the modern day, in a head long rush to extract energy  resources for the sake of national security.  Meaning that, if we have our own source of oil, then we are safer from the ups and downs of Middle East sources.
But, similar to the rush to be a nuclear power, that short sighted head down approach will very likely cost us huge dollars and lives in the future.
The massive operations in northern Alberta are ejecting millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Athabasca River, and millions of tons of chemicals into the air, to be dispersed throughout the world on the jetstream. This doesn't even count to CO2 emissions, if you were prone to count those type of things.
As we stand here today, the oil companies are working to bury their failures on the toxic tailing ponds, by covering them with plastic membranes and burying them under layers of process coke and sand. ( if you can't see it...)
But as the American nuclear program has proven so well, you can kill a few thousand people and pollute the land, air and water in the name of national security and profits. The best part is that the people that do the damage, do not have to pay the bill.
The bill ( both money and illness ) goes to the future generations, the ultimate downwinders.

May I suggest that you Wiki ...Hanford, Nuclear above ground tests in the US, and the Marshall Islands nuclear tests.

You can also look up Suncor's own news releases on the tailings pond capping projects...plus the relatively new plan to de-water the ponds and air dry the wet tailings ( full of heavy metals, POPs, solvents and bitumen.) Because dry toxic sludge is better...right?

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