The ongoing disaster at the Hanford Site in Washington state is something most Americans are not aware of.
For those few who are aware, it is hard to fathom the full depth of the problem because it is so massive and so unmanageable. Most of those who are familiar with the issue don't want to think about it. But they really should, since they are paying for it and their children and their children's children will keep on paying for it with their taxes and health. The Hanford site holds two-thirds of America's high-level radioactive waste by volume and is by far the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and perhaps the most contaminated plutonium production facility in the world. The level of contamination and potential toxicity is staggering.
It is the country's largest, most dangerous and most urgent environmental cleanup, and unelected President Donald Trump wants to slash its funding at the most critical time.
The Hanford Site was started in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for atomic weapons. It started with one reactor and in the Cold War was expanded to nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing plants. It produced most of the plutonium used in America's more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. The plant was shut down in 1987. Making plutonium can be a very messy business and Hanford has been leaking harmful radiation into the air, ground and nearby Columbia River for the last 73 years. America's high cancer rate is due in part to the radiation released from Hanford since 1944. Decades of plutonium production and the incompetence and corruption inherent in such operations left behind 56 million gallons (200,626,824 liters) of high-level radioactive waste in 177 leaky storage tanks, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste and more than 500 million gallons of contaminated groundwater under 200 square miles (520 km2) of land.
Because the contamination was so severe and massive no one really knew how to clean it up. So clean-up operations were put on hold while the radiation continued to be released into the air and contaminated groundwater kept flowing into the Columbia River.
A five-year EPA review of cleanup measures recently concluded the obvious, “contaminated in-area groundwater is still flowing freely into the Columbia.” Of course it is and it will continue to do so for long into the future.
In the late 1990's, nuclear physicist Dr. Gilbert Jordan and cold-fusion expert Hal Fox presented to the DOE at Hanford with proven technology that could transmute the nuclear waste into other elements — including gold, at very low cost. Their technology and similar technology was rejected out of hand along with all other better and viable solutions.
Both of the proponents of the transmutation technology were serious, intelligent experts who knew what they were talking about. Dr. Jordan designed many of America's nuclear weapons and was one of the engineers involved in the Plowshares project intended to develop peaceful applications for nuclear bombs.
Jordan led environmental cleanup operations at Area 51 in Nevada and was more recently a consultant for the disposal of old unserviceable Russian nuclear warheads that Obama took responsibility for. Hal Fox was an engineer for Hughes and Sperry, an expert in cold-fusion and director of the first research laboratory at the University of Utah Research Park.
In 2000, knowing that there were better, cheaper and safer options, the corrupt Department of Energy (DOE), which manages the site, gave a lucrative contract for the cleanup to its best buddy, the Bechtel Corporation — a very sinister privately held criminal corporation with close ties to the CIA and America's oligarchs. Bechtel builds flawed nuclear facilities, gets paid to clean up their own messes and to clean up other nuclear messes — at grossly inflated costs to taxpayers. It is an immensely profitable racket for them and the DOE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) often function as an extension of Bechtel.
Bechtel's brilliant cleanup plan is to mix the waste with sand, heat it up and put the waste into stainless steel casks and hide them in some underground facility that does not yet exist but might be built and run by Bechtel far into the future. Prolonging the disaster indefinitely is vastly more profitable than a real solution.
In 2011, the US Department of Energy (DOE), emptied some of the leaking single-wall tanks by pumping the liquid waste into 28 newer double-wall tanks. The new tanks started leaking not long after being filled, due to construction flaws allowed through the usual incompetence and corruption that has long plagued the DOE, Hanford and Bechtel.
The project is already more than a decade behind schedule and will cost at least four times the original estimate.
Last year, construction of the treatment plant was 78% complete but work was suspended after a review found hundreds of design, construction and material flaws. This followed a similar shut-down in 2013 after a whistle-blower warned about a potential for explosion from accumulated hydrogen gas in the treatment plant process.
In November of 2016, the Justice Dept. settled a False Claims Act suit against Bechtel Corp. and its subcontractor, AECOM. To maximize profits, they had knowingly proceeded with a flawed design and shoddy materials that engineers had long brought to their attention. The two companies paid $125 million in damages, a portion of which will be given to the engineers who kept blowing the whistle.
The current optimistic estimate is that the treatment plant won't be fully operational until maybe 2036, only twenty years behind schedule. That gives Bechtel plenty more time for cost over-runs, contract extensions and slap-on-the-wrist fines to give the appearance of due-diligence on the part of the government.
Even if Hanford is somehow cleaned up, the waste will remain radioactive and extremely dangerous for tens of thousands of years. Future generations will have to continue to store and monitor the waste until someone is willing to convert the waste to something less dangerous.
The cleanup of the plant is currently estimated to cost taxpayers more than $115 billion, but it will likely end up being substantially more, especially if Trump cuts the critical funding and EPA oversight in the near future and derails the flawed but only cleanup efforts.
The Hanford Site is just one legacy of America's nuclear madness. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico is another ongoing boondoggle in a long list of expensive nuclear failures.
Los Alamos has the nation’s only facility for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part and it was shut down in 2013 when it was discovered that the plant was not operating safely.
The acting head of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration discovered that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so that it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction. The lab was shut down and is still not yet fully operational but is now finally doing dry-runs and testing systems. In the meantime, America's nuclear arsenal is not being tested as needed, which is probably OK.
In addition to the training issue, LANL sits on top of an active fault zone and a sizable earthquake could collapse the roof of the building where plutonium is processed and start a chain reaction that would spew radioactive particles into the air. A fire at the same time, which is likely, could carry the cancer causing radiation up into the atmosphere and spread it over a wide area.
Due to the ongoing safety concerns at LANL, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board held a public hearing on June 7th regarding the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is accepting public comments till July 7th.
Under Trump, the Pentagon has started making its nuclear safety record much more secret.
Some may question whether or not the United States ever needed nuclear weapons in the first place. We now know that dropping the atom bomb on Japan did not end WW II. Japan was already asking to surrender before the bomb was dropped because Russia had entered the war against Japan and the Japanese knew they were facing certain defeat. They could not fight the U.S. and Russia at the same time. The only condition that Japan was asking for was to keep its Emperor, while the U.S. wanted an unconditional surrender. The U.S. rejected Japan's offers to surrender and dropped two atomic bombs on densely populated civilian areas.
Because the United States had nuclear weapons and was willing to use them, other countries had to have them as well and the U.S. was more than willing to help some develop their own nuclear weapons program.
Israel was given American nuclear technology while the Reagan administration simply looked the other way when Pakistan developed its nuclear weapons program with American, European and Chinese assistance.
Reagan was being disingenuous when he hold told Congress, "There is no diminution in the president's commitment to restraining the spread of nuclear weapons in the Indian subcontinent or elsewhere."
Donald Trump says that it might not be so bad if Saudi Arabia (the greatest source of Islamic terrorism and one of the architects of the attacks of 9/11) had nukes.
In today's world of Jihad, cyber attacks, weather modification, economic warfare and exotic weapons, nuclear weapons can no longer be presumed to protect the U.S. from grave harm.
The delusion of a great communist threat ended long ago and no one believes that Russia would invade America. China may pose a threat but nuclear weapons won't deter it from its 100 year marathon to dominate the globe. American stupidity is a much greater threat than China.
Even though nuclear weapons are obsolete and serve little or no purpose, Obama authorized a nuclear modernization program that will cost taxpayers another $1 trillion. The U.S. already has enough functional nukes to completely destroy all life on Earth many times over and the modernization program is just more looting of taxpayers money to keep the oligarchs rich.
Fortunately, the rest of the world is not as insane or corrupt as America and most countries are trying hard to abolish nuclear weapons altogether.
On December 23, 2016, the UN passed resolution 71/258 to conduct negotiations to ban nuclear weapons worldwide.
On May 22nd, the first draft of a UN treaty to abolish nukes was completed. Final negotiations have been underway since June 15th and are scheduled to finish on July 7th.
The first draft of the treaty was supported by 132 countries. The United States boycotted the negotiations and media in countries with nuclear weapons have largely ignored the whole vitally important issue.
Once the treaty is completed and signed by other nations the hard part will of course be in enforcing it. No nuclear power will want to give up their own nukes as long as the U.S. has them.
And then there is the fact that the UN itself can't really be trusted. It has its own issues of corruption and incompetence. Some of its agencies, such as the Commission on Human Rights and the Security Council, have no credibility. But, it is still our best option.
The U.S. alone spends more than $25 billion each year on its nuclear weapons and that amount will rise dramatically in the near future.
Combined, all known nuclear powers spend more than $100 billion each year on nuclear weapons.
Imagine if that money was instead spent on education, family planning, jobs and climate change adaptation.
Even though humanity expends a great deal of its resources and many of its best people on killing each other and developing new and more effective ways to kill each other, we can be better than this. It doesn't have to be this way.
The first step to lasting peace is to realize that the war industry and international bankers who profit from war are actually behind much of the conflict that plagues humanity. They are the real enemy and need to be exposed as such.