Richland USA, Declassified

Richland U.S.A., Declassified
20 w by 10 inches h
Digital Painting by Juli Kearns based on a photo
from the "Hanford Historical Photo Declassification Project".
Based on a photo from the "Hanford Historical Photo Declassification Project".
copyright J Kearns 2006

Read the introduction to the Remixing the Hanford Declassified Project paintings

Richland U.S.A.. stands out on this globe which appears to have a bomb sitting atop Russia and a missile over to the other side. It's a float from the Atomic Frontier Days Parade of 1956 and is one of the odder specimens, what with the women in their frothy gowns and the bombs and missiles...? I don't know.

I used to think instead of "Richland, USA" it read "Resist, USA" but finally, it's Richland.

I do wish I knew what organization their float represented.

They look pretty pleased with themselves.

Things would have been however a little more accurate if they had positioned the bomb over the Pacific Northwest, considering the legacy Hanford was leaving for future generations.

I was working on this picture during the Spring of 2006, at the time when 60 Minutes did a story on Hanford which aired April 30th. The last story they had done on Hanford was sixteen years ago in 1990.

The CBS 60 Minutes website gives a description of the story.

(CBS) Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, that's what critics accuse the U.S. Department of Energy of: making the same mistakes over and over in a project that has already squandered billions of dollars in taxpayers' money. But the risk here is far greater than financial, since it involves highly toxic nuclear waste.

At stake are millions of gallons of radioactive liquid waste left over from the making of nuclear bombs, including the one that was dropped on Nagasaki. This waste has been sitting in underground tanks in Hanford, Wash., ever since, while the government tries to figure out how to clean it up. As correspondent Lesley Stahl reports, the waste is so lethal that a small cup of it would kill everyone in a crowded restaurant, in minutes.

60 Minutes recently visited Hanford, where the witches' brew is being stored. Hanford, located along the Columbia River, is home to the most contaminated piece of real estate in the world outside of Russia.

It is contaminated by waste left over from the production of nuclear weapons. There are 53 million gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste stored in underground tanks that are now so old they have leaked one million gallons of the stuff.

Some of it leaked into the groundwater, and it's heading right for the river. With a million people downstream, there's a sense of urgency about cleaning up the site, which is huge. It takes up 586 square miles in southeastern Washington.

But for the Energy Department, which runs the project, it's been a case of easier said than done. In the nearly 16 years 60 Minutes has been covering this story, it's been one foul up after the next.

Charles Anderson, the Energy Department's official overseeing nuclear clean up, gave Stahl a tour of what has been built so far at Hanford, starting with a replica of the underground tanks.

"This is a model of tanks that are already built that have waste in them. Be careful with your head here as we go in," Anderson told Stahl during the tour.

The tank can hold 750,000 gallons of waste. Many of the tanks, built for the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons, are more than 60 years old.

Read more.

Well, seems that Bechtel didn't like the story, rebutted and the producer of the story rebutted to Bechtel's rebuttal.

An editorial at the TriCities Herald Hanford News site said 60 Minutes was a bit alarmist but also, essentially, yelled--help! We have 1,000,000 gallons of radioactive waste threatening the Columbia River and our asses.

It's not news that the old single-shell tanks have leaked an estimated 1 million gallons of high-level radioactive liquids or that construction of the vitrification plant - the massive project that's suppose to treat the wastes - has been plagued by staggeringly expensive mistakes.

But somehow, hearing Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes tell us how a single cup of those wastes could kill everyone in a crowded restaurant made it sound a lot more frightening.

No doubt, most of us who get our drinking water downstream from Hanford, swim at Howard Amon Park or eat fish caught along the Hanford Reach found the reporting alarmist.

Certainly, a statement or two letting national viewers know the Tri-Cities isn't in immediate peril would have been reassuring to our out-of-town relatives and offered a more accurate portrayal of the hazards we face.

But as much as we'd like to have seen 60 Minutes frame Hanford's problems in a more realistic context, let's not forget there are good reasons to be alarmed.

The threat that tank wastes pose to the Columbia River may not be imminent, but it is real.

"We've got an area that is contaminated in the ground water and is migrating toward the Columbia River," Gov. Chris Gregoire told Stahl. "If it gets there, Lesley, we have an absolute disaster on our hands."

Gov. Christine Gregoire wrote,

It has been 17 years since I signed the Tri-Party Agreement for the federal cleanup of Hanford with the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since that time we have had three presidents of the United States, 11 secretaries or acting secretaries of Energy, five prime contractors for the Waste Treatment Plant and three different business models for designing and building the treatment plant.

Nobody is more frustrated than I am about the lack of consistency, construction mistakes and management problems at Hanford.

But the greatest danger at Hanford is funding cuts and more delays. Many of the underground storage tanks for the highly radioactive waste are obsolete and leak-prone. The waste must be removed and that cannot happen until the treatment plant is completed.

The issue at Hanford is neither remote nor speculative. Leaking tanks, including highly radioactive material, has contaminated the groundwater. It has formed a plume that, in time, will flow to the Columbia River. We cannot and will not allow this to happen.

Anyway, as I was saying, seems a more apropos position for that bomb on that globe would have been right on top of Hanford, which had been releasing megacuries of radioactivity into the environment and which in the future would threaten the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River.

It was only, what, two hundred years ago that Lewis and Clark scouted the Columbia River, acting as spies for the federal government, seeing just what the situation was for imminent consumption of the West, handing out peace medals left and right to "American" Indians, informing them who their new great father was and that he would take good care of them.

Well, look what happened to the American Indians and look what happened to the land in two short centuries.

It's amazing what can be accomplished when you set your mind to it.

Black and white photo from the "Hanford Historical Photo Declassification Project"

Originally posted on my blog 2006.

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