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

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