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.
An interview with the author was in the Atlantic a few years ago:
This happened quite a while ago, but similar things are still going on today. Recently, I was considering a job in Pennsylvania, which unfortunately was several miles from the Marcus Hook Sunoco refinery (which has been in operation since 1902). It was recently fined $750,000 for "illegal modifications to equipment that allowed tons of potentially hazardous gases to be released into the air over two years." ...
"According to DNREC, the flare was modified at some point to receive gases from multiple sources throughout the Marcus Hook side of the facility, although no permit for those changes was ever sought by the company."
Those gases included hydrogen fluoride among other things.
When there's money to be made by cheapening out (on construction, safety, disposal, testing, quality of employees, etc), whether the risk to others (and sometimes even to self), some people will cheapen out.
Add human error to that, and it's better if the whole thing happens to some old-style electricity factory, and not to one whose waste needs safe storage for decades, and an accident can kill hundreds of thousands.
That said, the whole comparison that makes it as coal factories produce "more radioactive" waste, is based on comparing with "normal" nuclear factory emissions, under their 'theoretical' operation. Not the total long term potential, when one includes catastrophes, breakdowns, lousy waste containment and disposal, or the mafia just throwing it in the sea in the calculation.
The important thing to look at isn't what power source produces the "most radioactive" waste, it's the actual death tolls per KWh of different power sources. And coal is about 1000 times worse, both worldwide and in the US, _counting_ Chernobyl and Fukushima.
While the home builders are certainly not forthcoming on details of the incident, the site you linked to is packed with scientific inaccuracies and fear mongering.
I personally know workers who performed the cleanup, and also have reviewed health data which shows zero increase in cancer in the entire area for the 30 years since the last incident.
People like you are why I moved here. The houses are cheaper because of the reduced demand than they otherwise would be.
I'm on a phone, but later I will post a thorough debunking of the candelas glows site. People who don't understand the difference between alpha and beta particles, not plutonium vs uranium vs strontium have no business writing this stuff. It gives actual environmental contamination awareness campaigns a bad name.
I wouldn't want people who don't really know how to account for normal environmental background radiation muddying the waters and providing a counter argument of "well, the only people complaining weren't qualified to make that judgement".
Tldr: a Geiger counter will show nothing here.
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.
Wait, for real? I have zero training in handling fissile material, but I didn't think any significant level of radiation could make it through that much shielding.
The radiation field of a freshly removed power reactor fuel element is so strong that you couldn’t run past it fast enough to survive the dose.
It looks like what I didn't understand is radiation-blocking of a material (lead, concrete, water) is actually a decay function (half of the radiation makes it through X feet) rather than an absolute function (no radiation makes it through X feet).
In other words, given an infinitely radioactive source, you would require an infinitely thick lead barrier to protect you.
Really, I should have guessed given everything else about radioactivity is the same way.
But many of the fission products in neutron-exposed uranium emit high-energy gammas. And even lead is somewhat transparent.
Also, from what Google tells me, those "infinity rooms" at Hanford are probably contaminated with plutonium-239. That's an alpha emitter, and alphas (helium-4 nuclei) are pretty easy to stop.
OK, consider a tall gantry crane on wheels. Now imagine a plate, several feet thick, with layers of steel, lead and concrete, suspended below the rails. With a cab on the top, and no line of sight through the holes for the cables.
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.
In other words, we are creating something human history -- as well as contemporary events -- demonstrate we do not have an enduring ability to manage.
As they say, we can't put the genie back in the bottle. But we can perhaps do something to limit scope, particularly where alternatives are developing that are safer and, sliding down the development cost graph, more cost-effective.
P.S. I'll add that, until we can manufacture elements (more fully), I prefer to keep these limited resource available for potential future use, when we have acceptable alternatives -- for me, now, meaning solar, wind, hydro (all forms of solar energy, essentially).
Who knows what need we might have of them, in the future? What if really going to space requires them in significant quantity, but we burned them all up on street lighting and casinos? ;-)
(Wouldn't it be ironic if further sources were in space, but we didn't have enough to get there?)
"Even today, radiation levels are so high that the workers responsible for rebuilding the sarcophagus are only allowed to work five hours a day for one month before taking 15 days of rest. Ukrainian officials estimated the area would not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster citing https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#cite_note-T...
The problem is with long half-life (and thus low-radioactivity) elements that sit on the trees, get mixed with soil, and thus eventually end up in ground water and local food chain. You might be able to walk around a disaster site safely in relatively short time after the event, but I wouldn't try growing anything there.
Anything that went wrong with the Hanford Site can go wrong with any nuclear power factory.
It's the profit and human error factors...
Not sure how many techno-naive pro nuclear factory people know that in the real world (as opposed to the fantasy world where technology is all that matters), nuclear waste is giving to MAFIA owned companies to dispose, which then save money by just dumping it in the ocean...
and that's the tip of the iceberg... Even worse in the developing world...
Quick look at their website says it's not available to the general public. Only government officials, students, etc.
I had figured there must be some independent monitoring here, because many retired nuclear engineers live in the area of the community by the cleanup.
With the history of the lab here, there are many sites that are contaminated, but most of them are within the lab bounds. Of course, dust doesn’t respect a fence. There have been some worrisome incidents, like when a water pipe burst in Los Alamos and sent water through an unregistered historic buried dumpsite that contained nuclear or toxic materials.
I looked into rented a workshop across from an empty field with the fence around it, and looked into the history of the site. It had been the waste dump it for the first several years of the lab during the Manhattan project. It turned out they had cleaned up the site a few years ago. Would I have been exposed to any radioactive or toxic and dust if I had been there during that time? Who knows. It’s not clear if they would’ve told me if I was. At the end of the street there was a milling building for uranium, plutonium and beryllium and the water treatment facility for the site, which poured all of the water straight into the ground. They’be been cleaning that up recently.
In my own work, I generally prefer to leave toxic debris undisturbed until I am ready to deal with it safely. Like asbestos, it doesn’t harm you when it’s sealed and undisturbed. It’s often worse to clean it up poorly than to leave it there.
So that’s how it works, huh?
Welcome to the world of contracting for the federal government.
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).
Alas, when we could not even fix Hanford with money in the past, I am a little worried about doing it with less cash going forward.
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 difficulty is that these issues will become politicised and emotional. You have people like Trump emerge who think that clean energy is an abomination. But perhaps that is a step we have to go through in order to win the argument.
Although it's somewhat distasteful to a lot of engineers, I completely agree with you here. It's difficult, but if we don't play politics, we will lose. Iterated prisoners dilemma, almost.
> The difficulty is that these issues will become politicised and emotional. You have people like Trump emerge who think that clean energy is an abomination. But perhaps that is a step we have to go through in order to win the argument.
In some ways, I think it is, yeah. A lot of the time, people (even technical ones!) don't see the future negative uses of things as particularly dire, up until it's about to come crashing down on their heads.
There are some poeple in Tchernobyl and Fukushima that are eagerly waiting for your call with instructions.
Sarcasm aside existing long-term storage projects also turned out to be problem-prone i.e. look up Gorleben.
That’s not so much sarcasm you’re employing, as misdirection.
The VVER PWRs have a good track record, yes. It is the RBMK reactor that is an irresponsible design.
Just about every major nuclear power has a sub graveyard: