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Health agency concerned about Hanford contamination spread

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 1, 2018, 4:58 p.m.

In this file photo taken June 13, 2017, the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, right, stands adjacent to a dirt-covered rail tunnel, left, containing radioactive waste, amidst desert plants on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash. (Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press)
In this file photo taken June 13, 2017, the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant, right, stands adjacent to a dirt-covered rail tunnel, left, containing radioactive waste, amidst desert plants on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Wash. (Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press)

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Washington state Department of Health says there is a possible risk to the public if demolition of the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant continues without better controls to prevent the spread of radioactive contamination.

The Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday that over the last year the Department of Health has requested information and made recommendations.

This week agency assistant secretary Clark Halvorson escalated the department’s actions, sending a letter to the Department of Energy formally listing concerns and asking for more information.

The Department of Health doesn’t directly regulate the Hanford nuclear reservation, but is responsible for protection of public health and provides information to a Hanford regulator, the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Halvorson says there have been no levels of radioactive contamination detected off Hanford that indicate a risk to public health, so far. But the spread of particles contaminated with plutonium or americium has gone beyond the 200 West Area, the central Hanford area where the Plutonium Finishing Plant is located.

He said that worker cars with specks of radioactive contamination were driven into town.

Although the Department of Health is not one of the agencies that can stop work under the Tri-Party Agreement over worker safety issues, the Department of Health supports the halt to demolition work because of air sample results, the high number of workers with internal radioactive contamination and delays in notifying the Department of Health of elevated radiation readings.

DOE is taking steps to stabilize contaminants at the Plutonium Finishing Plant and improve the recovery of the project, including asking Jacobs Engineering to bring in new leadership for the project, DOE said in a statement Wednesday in response to the Department of Health letter.

“DOE has an established relationship with Washington’s Department of Health and we will continue our coordination with it,” DOE said. “We welcome and expect feedback on our operations from Health as we conduct recovery activities at the PFP and other cleanup activities on the Hanford site.”


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