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Should Hanford Nuclear Accident be a Wake Up Call for the Southeast?

Should Hanford Nuclear Accident be a Wake Up Call for the Southeast?


The May 10th 2017 accident at the Hanford Site, a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex in Washington state, exposes several urgent risks. It demonstrates this country’s failure to adequately manage and store the vast amounts of nuclear waste present in America in its haste to build up a nuclear arsenal for its war chest decades ago. In fact, the Department of Energy's own investigations revealed safety problems at the Hanford site, including the ill effects of vapors and the dangers presented with poor management.

When the nuclear waste storage tunnel collapsed, the air and other environmental elements were exposed to railcars loaded with radioactive waste. The tunnels’ insulation to protect the environment from the waste are comprised of concrete and timber, and seemingly, dirt. Nuclear watchdog groups have described how radiation compromises both concrete and timber, making the tunnel collapse unsurprising.

This Hanford incident gives us the opportunity to remind everyone that nuclear vulnerability is a concern across the country, and is not only a West coast phenomenon. Here in the southeast, our vulnerability is high as well. The Savannah River Site (SRS), on the Georgia border in South Carolina, produced plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons for decades; today SRS still extracts tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, from enriched fuel rods and routes it into nuclear U.S. nuclear warheads.

SRS is undergoing the slow process of cleaning up a disastrous amount of radioactive contamination in the groundwater while working to stabilize and disposition 36 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste held in aging tanks underground, some of which have cracks or have leaked. "We've been a Hanford. We’ve been a Flint. It is time for more public officials to pay attention to the nuclear crisis facing people and the environment in Georgia," Becky Rafter of Georgia WAND says. Toward that end, together with members of the Shell Bluff, Burke County, GA community, Georgia WAND recently brokered a three-year radionuclide environmental monitoring program as a first step in understanding how much contamination is in the community.

There are other risks association with the Hanford Site that are mirrored in Georgia: Eastern Washington state sits along a known fault line, as does East Georgia; and both face the threat of climate change. Hanford sits on the western bank of the Columbia River, which flows south into Oregon, through Portland, toward the Pacific Ocean. SRS sits on the Eastern bank of the Savannah River, which flows through Savannah, and into the Atlantic Ocean. The Floridan Aquifer, which SRS shares with half of Georgia, provides drinking water to millions of people in GA and perhaps irrigation for GA crops. Many people in GA use the Savannah River for fishing and recreation.

Both Hanford and SRS have a large footprint: the communities downwind and downstream from both sites are concerned about high levels of cancer and family deaths, the quality of their water and air.

From May 21-24, 2017, an eight-member delegation from Georgia WAND will be in Washington DC to encourage policymakers to “shift attention from winning a nuclear arms race to winning [safety and security] for the human race”. The delegation will advise them that this can be done by reassessing the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) nuclear weapons projects. The group will meet with leading members of Congress, committee staffers, and top administration officials who hold responsibility for U. S. nuclear policies. The goal of the visits is to end the disconnect between current DOE programs and policies and those that would best serve to ensure the safety and health of local residents, taxpayers, and the environment. The Georgia WAND delegation will collaborate with colleagues from a dozen other states, including Washington state, who are participating in the 29th annual Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) "DC Days". In our meetings with key public officials and staffers, we will share copies of ANA’s new report, “Accountability Audit,” a 20-page plan for reducing risks and saving billions of dollars across the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

Given the correlations between Hanford and SRS, and the 2014 plutonium leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, one can see that the Cold War era is still dangerously affecting us. Cold War era thinking still dominates our foreign policy; Cold War accidents continue occurring; and Cold War contaminants still saturate our natural resources, all of which disproportionately affects women, girls, all children, the elderly, people of color, people living in rural areas, people living close to nuclear facilities, people in conflict zones, and people in sacrifice zones.

You can join Georgia WAND’s efforts by giving to our DC Days Campaign, volunteering, signing up for our emails, or sharing how the nuclear industry may be affecting your life and loved ones.

Contact Us

Georgia WAND Education Fund, Inc.

250 Georgia Avenue SE
Suite 202
Atlanta, GA 30312

404-524-5999 - phone


Georgia WAND is funded by:

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AJ MUSTE graphic


southern partners fund