Selected Hanford Facts
Here you’ll find interesting statistics and facts about Hanford, which will be updated/added to from time to time. While much of this information concerns the past, it still effects our present and our future, especially when it comes to health issues. These facts come from reliable online sources, and I encourage you to let me know if you find other relevant facts that will make great additions to this list.
“When workers began to construct Hanford’s facilities, the project was kept so secret, that only about 500 of the 51,000 construction workers knew what they were building.” Department of Energy
“At Hanford, workers wear badges to measure the radiation dose they have received. All too often, to prevent getting a record of exposure that would block them from further work on a project, workers have temporarily removed their badges. Others were pressured to falsify exposure records.” Physicians for Social Responsibility
“Sixty percent (by volume) of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste is located at Hanford.” Physicians for Social Responsibility
“Nearly 80 percent of the USDOE’s national inventory of spent fuel rods was stored in basins just 400 yards from the Columbia River. The USDOE has moved the disintegrating fuel rods to a central location away from the river, but high-level radioactive debris remains in the basins.” Physicians for Social Responsibility
“At least 200-square miles of groundwater beneath the site is contaminated and migrating to the Columbia River. An estimated 80-square miles are contaminated above drinking water standards.” Physicians for Social Responsibility
“The Waste Treatment Plant that is being built at Hanford to turn liquid wastes into glass for safe disposal is the largest environmental construction project in the world. It will take until 2018 for the construction to be finished.” Department of Energy
“The half-life of a radioactive substance is the time required for it to lose 50 percent of its activity by decay. The half-lives of radioactive materials produced at Hanford over the last half-century range from a fraction of a second to billions of years. The main Hanford product, plutonium-239, has a half-life of over 24,000 years. At this rate of decay, the plutonium produced at Hanford will take 200,000 years or more to become stable nonradioactive material—at least as long as Homo sapiens has walked the earth!” Physicians for Social Responsibility
Feb: Research group headed by Glenn T Seaborg at University of California, Berkeley synthesize the first plutonium-239 (Pu-239) by bombarding uranium.
Dec 7: Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Dec 8: US enters WWII
President Roosevelt establishes the Manhattan Engineering District to build secret factories to produce U-235 and Pu-239 for atomic bombs. U.S. Corps of Engineers is put in charge.
Sept: Army Corps of Engineers appoints General Leslie Groves to head the Manhattan Project
Dec: Nuclear chain reaction demonstrated at University of Chicago
Groves presses DuPont Company to be prime contractor for Hanford.
Groves’ assistant, Colonel Franklin T Matthias, accompanied by DuPont engineers, search for Isolated, remote site, needed due to highly toxic, radioactive gases which would be produced during chemical separations phase of plutonium production. Hanford area selected.
Jan: Groves visits the site and established the Hanford Engineer Works, codenamed “Site W.”
Federal government acquires more than 600 square miles of land under eminent domain authority. Over 1500 people were relocated within 30 days. This includes residents of the towns of Richland, Hanford and White Bluffs, and members of the Wanapum and other tribes using the area.
Mar 1943: The Manhattan District of the Army Corps of Engineers begins construction of the Hanford plutonium processing complex and the government-owned city of Richland. Almost 50,000 workers live in a construction camp near the old Hanford townsite, while administrators and engineers live in the government town, Richland Village.
Sept: B reactor, the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor, starts operating and Hanford begins to produce plutonium. Plutonium is produced when a uranium-238 atom in a fuel slug absorbs a neutron to form uranium 239. Radioactive byproducts of plutonium production begin to be released into the river.
Dec: Startup of D Reactor, and T Plant. Major radioactive air and ground releases begin.
“Reactor theory at this time did not overlook the possibility that once a chain reaction was started, it could… get out of control and increase…to the point where the reactor would explode…””
Jan: Installation of 64 underground, single-shell waste tanks.
Feb: start up of F reactor, and of B plant. Construction of HEW complete.
Feb: first plutonium shipment leaves Hanford
April: President Roosevelt dies, Harry Truman becomes president
July: Trinity Test, first test of atomic bomb, using plutonium produced at Hanford, at Alamogordo, NM
Aug: Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima, August 6. Fat Man is dropped on Nagasaki August 9. Japan surrenders. Over 70,000 killed in Nagasaki alone. Fat Man used plutonium produced at Hanford.
Mar: Churchill delivers Iron Curtain Speech, condemning the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” This speech heralded the beginning of the Cold War.
Jan: Atomic Energy Commission assumes control of US nuclear program.
Mar: President Truman sets forth Truman Doctrine stating US would support Greece and Turkey economically and militarily to keep them from falling under Soviet influence. Start of containment policy to stop Soviet expansion.
Hanford becomes civilian operation, controlled by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and later, US Department of Energy. Manhattan Project ends.
Sept: GE becomes primary site contractor at Hanford, taking over from E. I. DuPont.
Over the period 1947-56: $350 million expansion at Hanford accompanies beginning of Cold War effort. Five plutonium production reactors, two chemical reprocessing plants and 81 underground waste storage tanks constructed.
Filters used for first time on separation stacks (where plutonium and uranium were separated from irradiated fuel through a chemical process).
Oct: Dike of waste pond breaks, result is 28 pounds of uranium spilled into Columbia River
July: REDOX (C plant) started up, Z plant (plutonium finishing) completed
Aug: First Soviet atomic detonation, RDS-1, also known as Joe-1 (in reference to Joseph Stalin)
Dec: Green Run, intentional release of approx. 8000 curies of radioiodine, 20,000 curies of xenon-133, into the atmosphere from Hanford.
Eighteen underground, single-shell waste tanks installed at Hanford.
Oct: Start-up of DR Reactor
Jan: Atmospheric atomic testing at Nevada Test Site begins, using plutonium produced at Hanford. From 1951-58, 119 atomic tests take place, most of them above ground. A few above ground, near surface or surface tests take place 1962-68. Fallout from the atmospheric tests release approximately 150 million curies of I-131, with peaks in 1953, 1955, and 1957.
Mar: Camp Hanford established by the Army to coordinate air defense for the Hanford facility.
July: Iodine filters on Hanford’s processing plants begin to fail. Before they were replaced, as much as 92,100 curies of I-131 may have been released.
REDOX (S Plant) started up, to recover uranium from T and B Plants. Experimental Animal Farm and Aquatic Biology Lab established.
July-Sept: Almost 250 curies of ruthenium-103 and ruthenium-106 released from Hanford due to processing problems
Atomic Energy Act passed. Allows nuclear weapons facilities to operate without independent oversight
Installation of supersonic Nike missile sites at Hanford to protect against possible enemy bombing attacks. Hanford was also guarded by antiaircraft guns, interceptor fighter aircraft, and, starting in 1954, Nike supersonic missles. Long-range radars supported these defenses.
Feb: Over 300 curies of radioactive ruthenium-106 were released from Hanford’s REDOX plant. Some travelled as far as Spokane.
Start up of KW and KE Reactors, one of which undergoes a partial melt-down at startup
Shutdown of B Plant. Startup of A Plant (PUREX)
Oct: Soviets launch Sputnik
1950s-1960s: All 8 reactors running at highest power levels. Radioactivity contaminates the Columbia River
April: a criticality accident at the Plutonium Finishing Plant releases 1200 curies of radioactive gas over three days.
President Kennedy attends ground-breaking for Hanford’s 9th reactor (N-reactor) which produces both plutonium and electricity (from its excess steam)
President Johnson orders gradual shutdown of Hanford operations. Three reactors are closed.
AEC closes last of the 8 original reactors, leaving only the N reactor.
AEC closed PUREX, the last of Hanford’s four separations plants.
May: Seattle Post Intelligencer reported 100 billion gallons of low-level liquid waste was discharged into the ground during 30 years of Hanford operations
June: Hanford officials announce detection of 115,000 gallon leak from nuclear waste tank 106-T
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant has partial core meltdown. Approx. 15 to 24 curies of I-131 released offsite.
Bill Houff, Spokane Unitarian minister, delivered “Silent Holocaust” sermon which led to the formation of the Hanford Education Action League four months later. HEAL was active until 1999.
July: the Spokesman Review published the first article about Hanford Downwinders on July 28, by Karen Dorn Steele.
Oct: At a public forum to discuss citizen concerns about potential health problems due to radioactive releases from Hanford, Michael Lawrence, Hanford’s DOE manager, announces DOE will release previously classified data about Hanford’s radioactive emissions.
Dec: Washington State Nuclear Waste Board passes a resolution calling for an independent health study of Hanford downwinders
Jan 30: HEAL and other groups file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents to evaluate the DOE’s release of documents already underway
Feb 27: DOE release 19,000 pages of Hanford Historical documents which include reports of the radioactive releases.
Mar: Governors of Washington and Oregon establish the Hanford Historical Documents Review Committee. The committee is to review the documents and make recommendations re their environmental significance.
Apr 26: Accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in then-Soviet Union , releases massive clouds of I-131 throughout Europe.
By 1993, more than 4000 plaintiffs have filed personal injury suits against the prime contractors who operated Hanford during years of offsite radiation releases. These were DuPont, GE, and Rockwell.
As of 2013, after over twenty years, many of these plaintiffs have not as yet had their day in court or been offered settlement by defendant contractors.
In Re Hanford Reservation Litigation update: Sometime in 2013, the cases of randomly selected plaintiffs with thyroid cancer, thyroid nodules, or non-thyroid diseases are set to be heard. Some settlements have occurred, but most claims have not been resolved.
Leaking Tanks: Reports continue to emerge of aging single-shell tanks at Hanford containing radioactive waste which are leaking an estimated 660 gallons a year. Hanford currently houses 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks, including 149 single shell tanks which are prone to leakage. The DOE has estimated that 1 million gallons have already leaked from 67 tanks and some of the radioactive material has reached groundwater.
 Leslie R Groves, Now it Can be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962), p 69:
In Re Hanford Nuclear Reservation Litigation
The Hanford downwinders’ personal injury litigation is still grinding slowly along after two decades, featuring a multi-million dollar contractors’ defense team funded by taxpayer dollars against the claims of ill and often-impoverished plaintiffs who continue their seemingly-endless wait for settlement or their day in court.
Interesting 2013 article about impact of aging infrastructure at Hanford and current leaks.
The National Law Review recent article on the current state of Hanford.