For those in CO, you might not remember the similar Rocky Flats fiasco.
The court cases had such funny stuff as overturning a jury verdict on appeals as "the judges wrote that under the law, the presence of plutonium on properties south of the Jefferson County plant, which closed in 1989 for safety and environmental reasons, at best shows only a risk — not actual damages to their health or properties."
These days, the site hasn't been tested in over a decade, in an area known for top soil erosion. And now more and more houses are being built immediately adjacent, with no warning to the homebuyers that this used to be a nuclear waste superfund site.
On the 'plus side' they at one point tried to get rid of the plutonium waste by combining it into a slurry and injecting it into the ground, which left us with some of the first data on how hydraulic fracturing can cause an increase in earthquakes.
The scale of the craziness at Hanford in the 50s-60s is difficult to appreciate, or even to imagine. Many of us have taken a lab course in qualitative inorganic analysis. You know, where you dissolve a sample in nitric acid, precipitate with sulfate, filter, redissolve the precipitate, precipitate with sulfide, filter, and so on. Eventually you understand what metals the sample contained.
OK, so back in the 50s-6s, that's how they isolated plutonium from neutron-exposed uranium. After aging in water for a few weeks, levels of short-lived fission products were low enough that humans could manipulate the stuff, behind several feet of steel, lead and concrete shielding, without immediately lethal radiation doses.
But then, what they did was dissolve this shit in hot nitric acid, in huge steel vessels. With clever mechanical manipulators. Even after aging, however, levels of xenon-133 and iodine-131 were still quite high. And where do you think they went? Up a stack, of course. What else? Abbeit through shielded pipes, to protect workers.
But you know, they could only dissolve when the wind was blowing fast enough. Because otherwise, the cloud of xenon-133 and iodine-131 overhead would inflict dangerous radiation exposures to workers. They released a lot:
> The formally classified report Dissolving of Twenty Day Metal at Hanford states that Hanford officials initially planned to release approximately 4,000 curies of iodine-131 and 7,900 curies of xenon-133 but ended up releasing in actuality 7,780 curies of iodine-131, along with 20,000 curies of xenon-133 into the surrounding area's atmosphere within a seven-hour period.  In comparison, the March 1979 Three Mile Island accident released between 15 and 24 curies of radioactive iodine.
But hey, at least they didn't dissolve on days when the wind was blowing west toward Portland or Seattle. Mainly they nuked local subsistence farmers. Iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days. That's short enough that levels in commercial milk are low enough, given all the delays from feed to cows to stores. But if you lived near Hanford then, and your kids were drinking milk from your own cows or goats, they got dangerous iodine-131 doses to their thyroids.
Before people start criticizing nuclear power. This story is about the Hanford Site. This is where they exclusively made plutonium for bombs, starting from the Manhatten Project. It’s a very complex situation with waste all over the site for a number of reasons, some of them really bad (aka management incompetence, government outsourcing of responsibility, etc), some of them sort of understandable (hey Joe, it’s 1945, we don’t know much about this shit but it can’t possibly hurt anyone if we bury over there in this vast wasteland. Don’t worry we’ll remember where it is... doesn’t).
Tours of the Hanford site are available to US citizens. Highly recommend people also go to the Manahatten Project “B Reactor” out there which is available to everyone.
Great, I live a mile or two roughly downwind from a site at Los Alamos where the DOE is removing the nuclear and toxic waste dump used for weapons and research waste here for 30-40 years. I’ve felt somewhat assured that they have the nuclear and toxic material secured, but realistically there’s no reason to believe they are doing a competent job.
„Congressional staff say the contamination is not surprising because the Energy Department offers bonuses to contractors if they meet tight schedules. But there are no bonuses for preventing worker contamination or preventing releases to the environment, they say.“
So that’s how it works, huh?
"Seven employee automobiles were contaminated at the plant site, according to a Jan. 9 letter from the state Department of Ecology to Doug Shoop, the federal site chief at Hanford. When one worker demanded that his contaminated car be purchased because vent ducts were potentially still contaminated, Energy Department contractors nixed it and offered him a coupon for a free detailing from a car wash, according to collective bargaining grievance records cited by union officials. The account was confirmed by two other employees."
Welcome to the world of contracting for the federal government.
> The mess has dealt the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons environmental management program yet another setback, following more than a decade of engineering miscalculations across the nation.
I get how some insignificant/"checklist checking" agencies can cause governments to fumble, or worse markets with complex fast changing circumstances resulting in revolving doors of hiring within industry or uselessly slow reaction timeframes....that's almost old news at this point, a reality we've seemed to have accepted.
But when agencies with such critical mandates as this are also so dysfunctional then it makes it hard not to cynical about the wider system from which these "solutions" continually spring from, or maybe it's just the fundamental constraints from which they operate (such as the type of people who typically staff these agencies).
For many years you could walk around Paducah KY with a blacklight at night, and see the fluorescence of hex dust that had blown over from the gaseous diffusion plant. Safety has been a rather inconsistent priority in this industry.
Not that surprising given the current leadership and budgetary direction at the Department of Energy. Micheal Lewis ran a great piece  on the Nuclear facility safeguards about a year ago, and it appears it is quite prophetic...
USSR/Russia still operating version of Hanford https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayak .
The area around has been thoroughly contaminated over the 70 years. An example of a disaster there - a lake that the nasty stuff had been dumped into gets dry somewhat with wind blowing away that dust from the opened lakebed.
The promise of nuclear power in the 60s and 70s was "we don't know yet how to manage the waste, but in a few decades we'll have it sorted out". We didn't. Nobody knows how to safely decommission old nuclear facilities, how to manage nuclear waste for thousands of years.
When they are done cleaning up they should start with all the places depleted uranium is killing people years after the US was done bombing for peace.
I wonder how many years I've taken off my life ingesting copious amounts of dirt at the ORV park just a few miles away from the Hanford site