Get your copy - FREE


Free E--book - Particles on the Wall 2nd edition from Healthy World Press



  • POTW exhibit at WSU through April 5, 2013
  • POTW exhibit in Portland May 3 - June 14, 2013

WANMEC is made possible by Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

With support and additional funding from INND and
Support this project by donating to WPSR today.

Environmental Effects

When the mission at Hanford changed from plutonium production to environmental restoration, the Tri-Party Agreement agencies had an enormous toxic mess on their hands: Hanford is the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. Radioactive and chemical problems included.

Hanford Contamination Facts

  • 53 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste in 177 aging underground storage tanks. At least 67 of these enormous tanks have leaked an estimated total of one million gallons of high-level waste into the ground. In addition to radioactive waste, these tanks contain hundreds of toxic chemicals.
  • The groundwater at Hanford is contaminated with both radioactive and chemically toxic materials. Unfortunately, cleaning up groundwater is one of the most technically difficult challenges. However, the USDOE has made progress in treating a significant plume of chromium near the Columbia River, and has also installed a chemical barrier to prevent radioactive strontium from reaching the river.
  • 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel, stored in two aging basins just 400 yards from the Columbia River
  • 12 tons of plutonium in various forms
  • Approximately 25 million cubic feet of buried or stored solid waste, much of it in unlined trenches
  • About 200-square miles of contaminated groundwater, with 80-square miles exceeding the EPA's "acceptable risk" for drinking water standards
  • More than 1900 waste sites
  • Approximately 500 contaminated facilities.

How did this all happen?

Hanford's environmental contamination resulted primarily from years of dumping toxic radioactive and chemical wastes directly onto the ground. Other significant causes include leaks from the high-level nuclear waste tanks and the breakdown of buried waste containers.

As contaminants spread out from their sources, they form what are called "plumes." An estimated 200-square miles of groundwater beneath Hanford are contaminated with radioactive and toxic chemicals. About 80-square miles are contaminated beyond safe drinking water standards. Groundwater contaminants that already exceed EPA standards include uranium, strontium, tritium, technetium-99, nitrates, carbon 14, trichloroetTHhylene, and chromium VI. These contaminated plumes are headed to the Columbia River.

Since radioactive contaminants cannot be destroyed or detoxified, radioactive "cleanup" actually means stabilization and immobilization. The "half-life" of radioactive contaminants at Hanford ranges from 12 years to billions of years. A half-life is the time required for a radioactive substance to lose 50% of its activity by decay.

Though many studies have been initiated, there is still no comprehensive assessment of the volume and spread of all contaminants at Hanford. Consequently, the true threat to the environment has not been determined.

Washington State Department of Ecology Documents

The Department of Ecology in Washington maintains a database of its documents related to Hanford. Included you will find environmental impact statements, waste permits, air permits, and more. These documents are an excellent way to learn about the regulatory processes behind the cleanup at Hanford.

Columbia River Impact Statement

This compendium created by Pacific Northwest for the USDOE, provides detailed discussions, data, and evaluations of the impact of activities at Hanford on the health of Columbia River. The document focuses on the amount of radioactive particles that found their way into the river and their concentrations circa 1994 when this document was published.

  • No labels