background_fid.jpg
Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Environment and Planning
00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Report: Poor Communication A Main Cause For Recent Contamination Spread At Hanford Site

pfp_fixative_application.jpg
U.S. Department of Energy
Crews apply a coat of fixative, a paint-like substance to immobilize any contamination, on the wall of an mobile office trailer at the PFP.

Prompt communication between workers and management at the Plutonium Finishing Plant did not occur,  so radioactive waste continued to spread at Hanford. That’s according to a new report out Thursday.

The PFP is a massive factory where liquids containing plutonium were tuned into solid “buttons” for use in bombs during the Cold War. Government contractors are now demolishing it.

The new report said there was poor communication between workers and managers. They didn’t recognize the trend of the growing problem, and they didn’t learn lessons from previous contaminations.

“Via informal communication, some workers shared prior experiences from other Hanford demolition projects that they thought could be beneficial,” the report said. “Some shared concerns about the process related to the use of fixatives and fogging. Feedback from some workers identified that PFP management was not always responsive to the informal input.”

The fixative that contractors sprayed on the building and rubble site to trap contamination, a blue goo, wasn’t as effective as they planned.

“Debris piles were allowed to remain at the demolition site and were managed through the use of fixative as a near-term control and soil coverage as a longer term control. These controls were incorrectly thought to provide equivalent protection to containing the debris as it was created," the report said.

Workers diluted the fixative down to 50 percent with water, without any scientific study that that was OK to do. According to the report, “The manufacturer of the fixative does not recommend any dilution.”

The report goes on to state that surveys for contamination should have been expanded outside of demolition areas.

Work at the demolition site is idled until Washington state and the EPA are satisfied the spread won’t continue. The project is more than a year behind its deadline already. This report will be used to further inform an expert panel that’s studying the problem.

So far 10 workers have tested positive for ingesting or inhaling radioactive contamination, seven personal cars and about 30 government vehicles have been found contaminated.

Office buildings at the site have had to be abandoned. Radioactive contamination has also turned up at air monitors near a public highway, a traffic barrier, garbage cans and stairs.