Western Exposure

Helicopter, scientists study radioactive waste spread by wildlife at Hanford

By September 25, 2009August 14th, 2019No Comments

For the next 10 days, a helicopter will be hovering over the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in hopes of discovering how animals have spread radioactive salts around the area, reports Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.

In a chopper equipped with aerial radiological survey gear, CH2m Hill Plateau Remediation Co. — the company contracted by the Department of Energy to conduct the surveys — will fly just above the site at 80 miles per hour looking for contaminated “hot spots.” The idea is that aerial surveys will help narrow the estimated ground contaminated and reduce cleanup costs. The 13.7-square-mile portion of Hanford being surveyed is just south of the trenches that were filled with millions of gallons of liquid radioactive waste during the Cold War.

Understanding how animals contribute to the movement of radioactive contamination has gained attention in recent years. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that scientists were convening this week in Kennewick, Wash., very near Hanford to discuss just that.

The crew will also survey nearby West Lake, an ephemeral wetland once filled with contaminated ground water that seeped up through aquifers, leaving behind traces of radioactive salts. While no cleanup is currently scheduled for West Lake, evidence from the aerial surveys — and sightings of inhabiting wildlife, including American avocets, a migratory shorebird — could change that.

And speaking of cleanup sites, the Northwest may have one more to add to its list: Oregon’s Black Butte mercury mine. As the nation grapples with where to store the mercury waste we’ve already accumulated — with some even suggesting existing polluted sites such as Hanford — Scott Learn of the Oregonian reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering the abandoned Black Butte mine be cleaned up after outrageous levels of mercury, arsenic and various other contaminants were found to have leaked downstream into the Cottage Grove Reservoir. After determining that up to 75 percent of the reservoir’s mercury was directly from the mine, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that the site be included in its National Priorities List, aka Superfund.

— Natasha Walker

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