The Cold War’s Toxic Legacy: Costly, Dangerous Cleanups at Atomic Bomb Production Sites

Seventy-five years ago, in March 1943, a mysterious construction project began at a remote location in eastern Washington state. Over the next two years some 50,000 workers built an industrial site occupying half the area of Rhode Island, costing more than $230 million—equivalent to $3.1 billion today. Few of those workers, and virtually no one in the surrounding community, knew the facility’s purpose.

The site was called Hanford, named for a small town whose residents were displaced to make way for the project. Its mission became clear at the end of World War II. Hanford had produced plutonium for the first nuclear test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, and for the bomb that incinerated Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Hanford is now one of the most contaminated sites in the world.

As U.S. leaders consider producing new nuclear weapons, they should study lessons from Hanford carefully. Hanford provides one of the more dramatic examples of problems that unfolded—and persist today—at nuclear sites where production and secrecy took priority over safety and environmental protection.

Hanford was one of three large facilities anchoring the Manhattan Project – the crash program to build an atomic bomb. It was part of a larger complex linking facilities across the nation. A plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, enriched uranium and operated a prototype nuclear reactor. Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico assembled a cadre of world-class scientists to design and build the weapons, using materials produced at the other sites.

Read full story…

 

Similar Posts: