Inheriting Hanford Blog

Hanford Workers Deserve Our Attention

Hanford Vapors

My name is Jackie Yeh, and I am a junior at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma. You might think, why is this teenager writing about Hanford? Or why does she care? Why should anyone care? Well, I’ll tell you.

In the desert in Southeast Washington near the Columbia River lies one of of the most contaminated places in the whole United States: the Hanford Site, a federal government-owned and operating site encompassing approximately 586 square miles. Previously, this site was part of the Manhattan Project, which helped create the atomic bomb during World War II.

Creating plutonium for  bomb production left the site environmentally devastated. Currently over 11,000 employees work at Hanford each day on cleanup. This work consists of everything from disposing of the protective clothing worn by  workers and the equipment used in the process of making plutonium, to the retrieval and treatment of radioactive and chemical waste that remains as part of that process. This waste must be remediated to prevent contamination of the Columbia River and surrounding land. It is estimated that nearly 1million gallons of nuclear waste have leaked from the underground storage tanks at Hanford, resulting in serious environmental concern. Finishing the entire project is estimated to cost over $140 billion.

Why should we care? Well, imagine yourself in one of these worker’s shoes. You’ve been working at the tank farms for years. One day, you’re sent to help investigate the contents of a tank with a camera. But while standing near the tank, all of a sudden… Whoosh! You’ve been exposed to chemical vapors. You may have difficulty breathing. You may cough up blood. Years later, you find out you have been diagnosed with a rare cancer, and you don’t know what caused it because there are so many chemicals at the Hanford Site and so few precautions shielding you from potential hazards on the job. Your life has been changed forever. Whose fault was it? What do you do? Ten seconds of exposure on the job can lead to serious health issues. This is what can happen to some workers at the Hanford site. And this is precisely why YOU should care.

With more public awareness and a bigger team of people passionate about Hanford, we can make a difference in cleanup decisions. Young people and people of all ages should care about Hanford because it is a big issue. People all around us have been affected, and not enough has been done to fix the problem! We need to join together as a community and do all that we can to fix this problem. If safety protocols are followed properly, workers will be better protected from possible injury on the site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I really hope that YOU take the time and help us change Hanford for the better. Even just doing some research or just telling a friend about the issue can make someone else’s world brighter because we need more people to be aware of these issues! Just remember, YOU can make a difference. Like Desmond Tutu once said, “It’s those little bits of good, put together, that overwhelm the world.” And you can help overwhelm the world. I know it. So let’s all start today! #hanfordcleanupmatters

We got this.

by: Jackie Yeh

Stockton Alumni Visit Hanford

New Jersey to HanfordI attended the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. After years of working for non-profits and attending law school, I finally made my way to the west coast. I have been working with Hanford Challenge since April of 2013 and have learned a great deal about the history and issues surrounding the Hanford nuclear waste site – many of which were relatively unknown to me beforehand.

The thing is, on the east coast, the news of Hanford is not as prevalent. “Out of sight, out of mind.” “Not in my backyard.” Whatever you want to call it, I was only vaguely aware of the history of the site and knew very little of its current state. That’s why when I was presented with an opportunity to meet with students from my alma mater I immediately agreed.

A group of students would be traveling the west coast learning about environmental cleanups, alternative energy programs, sustainability projects and more. One stop was going to be Hanford. I met them at the Department of Ecology where they watched a video and presentation from Ecology staff. I then gave my remarks on Hanford Challenge, our role in the cleanup efforts and my personal journey from New Jersey to Washington and how Stockton really helped shape my focus and environmental stewardship.

It was a great experience getting to make a new connection with younger students, particularly ones who are so far geographically removed from the site. They had a lot of questions and I believe they learned a great deal about large scale environmental cleanups.

by: Kathryn Sain

Learning about Hanford as a Northwest Native


Even though I have lived in Washington for most of my life, this past year has been full of new experiences for me. For the first time, I watched the sun set from Golden Gardens. For the first time, I have planted seeds and maintained a garden, hopeful that I will their vegetables. For the first time, I have seen orca whales swimming in the wild.

For the first time, I have learned about and become familiar with the Hanford nuclear site and its cleanup.

The site has been responsible for environmental contamination since its opening in 1943, when Reactor B, which produced plutonium for the Manhattan Project, began spilling toxic chemicals into the Columbia River. For years, the Hanford nuclear site continued to produce radioactive chemicals such as iodine-131 with little to no oversight from independent, unbiased parties. People living downwind of the plant, including young children, experienced health problems as a result of their exposure to toxic vapors. Even after the closure of its last active reactor, the results of Hanford continues to weigh heavily on the environment and the people of Washington.

I like to think I am born and bred of the Pacific Northwest. If I ever have children, I want to raise them here. I will want them to know how to garden and to watch sunsets at Golden Gardens and to see orcas swimming in the wild as they grow up. I also wish those experiences for the children who live here now.

For that reason, the cleanup of the Hanford nuclear site is incredibly important to me. I want the government to devote the funds necessary to clean the site as safely and responsibly as possible. Given that the estimated costs of that cleaning exceed $100 billion dollars, I know that’s a hefty price tag. But when I consider what’s at stake – the lives of the people working to clean the site, the health of the environment and the people living in the Tri-Cities and beyond, the world our children will grow up in – I can demand no less.

by: Samantha Kettering

Why Young People Should Care

columbia river salmon

I think young people in our Evergreen State should care about Hanford, because whether we like it or not we are inheriting the Hanford site as the next generation of people. This is a problem that will affect us at home if we don’t work to stop it now. We as young people also need to continue the cleanup process as those who did before us no longer can. This could affect the food we eat because the radiation is leaking into our fresh water and our soil. The people who live in the Native American reservation right next to the site are going to be more heavily affected.  The tribes deserve safe access in the future to hunt and fish as allowed by treaty.

As a young person learning about Hanford, I have many concerns, including how far pollution has traveled from the Hanford site. A research team detected the radioactive chemical, zinc-65 8000 times higher than normal squid and shellfish in the water around Cannon Beach, Oregon, which is 365 miles away from Hanford! And that was in 1964! The same study by a Scripps Oceanographic Research team detected Hanford radionuclides in the Puget Sound. Some of the fish that reside in the Columbia River have been shown to have dangerously high levels of radionuclides and toxic chemicals. Tribal people eat much more fish from the river and face a 1 in 50 risk of contracting cancer as a result

It is vital that people my age and younger get involved in the cleanup so that it doesn’t affect our environment more than it already has. Clean up entails demolition of the Hanford site facilities and moving the waste to a regulated landfill at Hanford. We also have to protect the people directly at the site working to clean up the toxic waste. By working to clean this mess, our environment will be healthier and cleaner, bringing us closer to saving our Mother Earth. Young people have a duty to our state, our country, and our world, to keep our environment clean.

by: Erik Ernevad

Seattle High School Student

The Tip of the Iceberg

I’m Levi, and I’ve always lived within a 250 mile radius of the Hanford Nuclear Site.

I grew up in Boise (the only city in Idaho that wants to be Seattle’s kid brother), and as far as I was concerned, Hanford didn’t exist. I knew that Arco, Idaho was the first city in the United States to be powered by nuclear energy, and that was the extent of my knowledge of locally-grown atomic activity. Attending a local college and majoring in chemistry didn’t do anything to alter that knowledge – it took moving to the other corner of the PNW and interacting with Hanford Challenge to learn about the irradiated monstrosity that had been knocking at my back door.

It’s unsettling, knowing that 56 million of gallons of highly radioactive waste are steadily seeping into the groundwater (due to “temporary” and aged tanks) and releasing vapors- and that’s not mentioning the 440 billion gallons of radioactive waste that have been dumped directly into the ground since the site began operating (that volume could fill Lake Union over sixty times). It’s even more disconcerting that one of my first thoughts about Hanford was that the separating distance probably kept the litany of highly radioactive and not-radioactive-but-can-still-kill-you-with-ease contaminants (Plutonium, Uranium, Strontium 90, Cesium 137, Iodine 129, Carbon tetrachloride, Chloroform, Methylcyclohexane, Cadmium, Mercury, etc.) at acceptable levels for me while I was growing up- but what about the indigenous tribes who still live and fish nearby? What about the Hanford workers who have gotten cancer? What if many people in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are participating in an experiment in long-term, very-low-dose exposure?

The Hanford site is huge, both in literal size (it covers 586 square miles) and in its implications. It made the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and it continues to affect (and prematurely end) lives. I’ve probably only barely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg, but at least I now know the iceberg is there.

by: Levi Smith

Plume: On the Emotional Impact of Hanford



— Thomas Jerry Deen, 1929-1988

On the morning I got plucked out of third grade
by Principal Wellman because I’d written on command
an impassioned letter for the life of our nuclear plants
that the government threatened to shut down
and I put on my rabbit-trimmed green plaid coat
because it was cold and I’d be on the televised news
overseeing delivery of several hundred pounds of mail
onto an airplane bound for Washington DC addressed
to President Nixon who obviously didn’t care about your job
at the same time inside your marrow
blood cells began to err one moment efficient the next
a few gone wrong stunned by exposure to radiation
as you milled uranium into slugs or swabbed down
train cars or reported to B Reactor for a quick run-in-
run-out and by that morning Mr. Deen
the poisoning of your blood had already begun”

—Kathleen Flenniken, Plume

There are many books out there about Hanford. Like the site itself, the books can be complex, arduous reads that take a certain degree of dedication to get through. As someone who is new to Hanford issues, I find learning about the site to be fascinating but a bit of a slog at times because of the immensity of the project and cleanup.

Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume, a Washington State Book Award winner, is an amazing compilation of poems on Hanford that is distinctly different from other Hanford literature. More than any other text I’ve encountered, Plume grapples with the very personal effects felt by the families of Hanford workers. Flenniken herself is a second generation Hanford worker whose father worked at the site in the age of weapon production.

Flenniken’s book also beautifully paints images of the desert landscape of Eastern Washington. Her depictions of the flora and fauna that inhabit the site and surrounding areas make a profound statement about the need to mitigate the impact that Hanford has had on the ecosystem.

If you are looking for a different kind of introduction to Hanford, I highly recommend this amazing book of poetry. It is available here through Amazon.

By: Emily Bays


Where is the 300 area again?

phoenix map
Do you, like me, often feel that your efforts to memorize the many facilities and their respective purposes at Hanford are in vain? I often have moments of frustration when I find myself looking up “100 area” or “ERDF” for the 30th time.

Fortunately for Hanford newbies like myself, there are some great resources out there for frequent referencing on Hanford issues. The Department of Energy’s official Hanford website has what amounts to a dictionary of all the Hanford facilities that I find myself revisiting again and again. If you want to check that link out, it is available here.

Another awesome resource is Phoenix, the PNNL Hanford Online Environmental Information eXchange, which was created and is maintained by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Phoenix is an interactive map of the Hanford Site. You can click to add a number of layers to the map, including plumes, facilities, and tanks. Cross-reference the Phoenix site maps with facility descriptions and you have a veritable wealth of information for the aspiring Hanford nerd!

If you have found great Hanford resources for quick referencing, post them in the comments!

by: Emily Bays

Difficult Choices


Post-holiday contemplation can be very fruitful. I’ve been thinking about the “Sophie’s Choices” we are faced with every day regarding Hanford cleanup. I know this is a dramatic statement.  I am not typically given to drama, but after attending a filming last week watching and listening to Ecology, DOE and Bechtel talk about the Waste Treatment Plant currently under construction I was both encouraged and discouraged. The budget numbers are out for 2014. Hanford is being provided with an enormous amount of money for cleanup for both of the Department of Energy field offices; Richland Operations and the Office of River Protection. It feels ungrateful to say it is not enough but it really is not enough. Not enough to meet Tri-Party agreement milestones, not enough to develop preliminary activities to support some future cleanup actions, not enough to move forward on groundwater and vadose zone remediation on the Hanford site and more.

Choices will have to be made. Actually, I think most of those major choices have already been made – directed by the higher-ups located in Washington, D.C. in various and sundry governmental agencies. We keep pushing off a variety of cleanup actions to some date in the future to be paid for by our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

All that being said, I am still hopeful that I will be alive to attend the start up ceremony for the Waste Treatment Plant. A safe, successful operating plant to vitrify the 56 million gallons of waste stored in underground tanks is the star we are all reaching for. The number of hardworking, technically astute folks working on that goal of Hanford cleanup is staggering, including those of us volunteering our time and effort in a variety of ways: attending public meetings, volunteering on the Hanford Advisory Board, talking with friends and neighbors about Hanford cleanup, encouraging young people to get educated on Hanford issues…the list goes on and on. Sharing the value of remediating and protecting our water is incredibly important, it is fundamental to survival. Hanford is filled with beautiful animals, incredible plants, Indian cultural resources, historical industrial artifacts, and for me – good memories.

Susan Leckband
Wife, mother, grandmother and former Hanford worker.

Hanford: Inequities & Unheard Voices


This past fall quarter I was enrolled in a medical anthropology class taught by Holly Barker at the University of Washington.  Throughout the quarter, our class met weekly with our NGO partners, Hanford Challenge and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, to coordinate the details of a public meeting: Hanford: Inequities & Unheard Voices.  During the weeks of planning, our class learned about the geopolitics of today’s nuclear order while also gaining firsthand insights into the complex history of Hanford Nuclear Site.  The meeting provided an excellent platform for us to deepen our knowledge of the issues at Hanford, while also affording us an opportunity to raise awareness by engaging with the public.

The event was catered by the generous contributions of Shalimar Restaurant, Nesbit’s Wholesome Cuisine, Tutta-Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria and Mighty-O Donuts.  The evening began with a few songs from The Raging Grannies, a group of fabulously radical, wise- women elders that advocate for peace, equality and social justice through music.  Following their set, we were fortunate enough to have Washington State’s 2014 Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, initiate the meeting with a poetry reading from her book, Plume.  The rest of the evening was filled with insights from our keynote speakers: Russell Jim and Leah Aleck of the Yakima Nation; former president of the United Steelworkers Union, Stephanie Greene; Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge; and URS whistleblower, Dr. Walt Tamosaitis.

The highlight of the evening came when two students from our class, Alex and Leslie, joined the guest speakers on stage to field questions from the audience.  This gave the public an opportunity to probe further into their personal concerns.  When the Q&A panel was asked, “How frequently do cover-ups occur at Hanford?” Stephanie Greene replied quickly and resolutely with the answer “daily.”  This question was later followed with, “What would it take for Hanford to truly be considered clean?” Dr. Tamosaitis explained that he did not believe it would ever be “truly clean.”  Russell Jim interjected with his opinion that someday, maybe 500 years from now, it will indeed be clean.  In America’s Nuclear Wastelands: Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup (2008) author Max Power states that, “accountability, openness and public trust” (153) are necessary precursors for a successful cleanup.  As Russell Jim’s statement revealed, many people feel that accepting a lower standard prioritizes cost at the expense of public health and worker safety.

The evening ended on a high note with Washington Rep. Gerry Pollet accepting a signed Student Proclamation of the actions from the DOE desired by students in the clean up effort.  Rep. Pollet not only accepted the proclamation, but he invited the class to join him in presenting it to legislators this January in Olympia.

raginggranniesI felt this was a major success for the class as it takes a stab at affecting policy change head-on.  Over the course of the quarter there were three key approaches presented for implementing change in the cleanup that stood out to me.  The most fundamental approach is raising awareness through meetings, art and storytelling.  The second approach was illustrated in our exchange with Representative Pollet and it involves addressing the government directly by requesting policy change.  The third approach is a hybrid of the two, first brought to my attention by Laurie of The Raging Grannies.  When I asked her what she felt was the most effective approach to demanding action from the DOE at Hanford, she replied firmly with “civil disobedience.”   Indeed, if the cleanup doesn’t start heading in a new direction soon, civil disobedience might be a path of action for citizens to take.

by: Tiffany Smith

Faith and Hanford

The Hanford Reach

I have the privilege of hearing the nuclear news pretty regularly because I live with Emily, who works at Hanford Challenge. It’s strange sometimes to step back and reflect on where life takes you – a few months ago, I had never been to Seattle, I did not know Hanford existed, and I didn’t ever really tie environmental issues into my faith. I believed in the need to do something about global warming, and I thought it was important to live as ‘green’ as possible in order to care for creation, but I didn’t think my faith required more engagement than that.

Emily and I live with four other housemates, the six of us making up Seattle’s first chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. I’ve had friends do various religious-corps after graduating from college or graduate school, but I had not heard of anyone working at an advocacy-related or environmental-focused work site through any of these year-long programs. I didn’t think much about Emily’s placement at Hanford Challenge other than, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ I didn’t really think that it would affect my life much at all.

Now, three months into a year of living as an intentional community, I can’t believe it took me so long to get to Seattle, I can’t believe I had never been educated about the nuclear waste site that produced the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and I can’t believe I did not see the connection of environmental issues and my faith.

What I’ve learned in the past few months has made the idea of caring for the earth much more real and pressing. I had learned about the negative side of nuclear energy earlier in my life, but always in a context completely separate from myself. I had read personal accounts of the Chernobyl explosion and the following years of devastation, but nuclear energy still seemed so foreign. Living in Seattle, I can no longer keep nuclear energy and the environment tucked away in my mind as something fictional. Hanford is only three and a half hours away from my house, and on a clear day, I can see so much of our beautiful world that the idea of its degradation is a personal offense! The fear of nuclear harm not only on the environment, but also on health and wellness, and personal livelihoods, has become much more real and pressing. As people are hurt and lands upon which homes and communities are built continue to deteriorate, I have come to realize that I actually can’t separate my faith from the environment.

I work at a church in downtown Seattle, so I come from a Christian perspective, though I don’t believe that it is only the Christian faith that propels us to action in response to the unfair destruction of our world. Our churches, though, proclaim that seeking justice and peace is a key aspect of the Christian faith – and these past few months, I’ve learned that it is impossible to separate environmental degradation from that mission. Should we continue to turn away from the pressing need for adequate cleanup at the Hanford Site, we will be turning away from the health of those impacted by eating fish from the contaminated waters nearby. If we ignore the need to clean up our environment and preserve it, we’re ignoring the very real medical realities that come from exposure to radiation. The example of Jesus’s life, the example that the church is supposedly modeled after, is one that does not only address the ‘convenient’ injustices, the ones that only require a morning volunteer shift. Breaking the chains of oppression, including those chains placed by mismanagement, should be church business too. A renewed look at environmental stewardship wouldn’t hurt.

by: Delaney Ozmun

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