How many times in one lifetime?

Hanford Tunnel Collapse – May 9, 2017

I had never heard of “down-winders” until my friend and neighbor Carol Nordquist was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years ago.  It was her younger sister, ‘Aunt Becky,’ who said, “Oh yes.  We grew up in Walla Walla.  Our family are all down-winders and cancer is what we die of.”

These thoughts came flashing to mind yesterday afternoon when I happened to see a FaceBook message from Joanne Rideout:  RICHLAND, WA (KPTV) – An emergency has been declared at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington after a portion of a tunnel that contained rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

Crude Oil Pipelines in the U.S.A.

No matter how much reassurance we’ve been given about safety precautions since the site opened in 1943 – no, wait!  It was a secret until well after the war.  Part of the Manhattan Project, you know.  It was during the Cold War (1947-1991) that site expanded to its current size of 586 square miles – roughly equal to half the area of Rhode Island – and sometime during that period that we were told “no worries.”

Hanford is currently the largest and most contaminated nuclear site in the United States, and despite the fact that it is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup, it has continued to leak radioactive waste into the soil and groundwater. As if all of that isn’t horrifying enough, Hanford offers a number of tours for members of the public, elected officials and their staffs, tribal officials, stakeholders, and others.  Plus, it’s on the Register of National Historic Places.  Just like Oysterville.  Go figure.

Safe?

What’s most incredible to me is that new and terrible corporate proposals continue to be promoted as “safe.”  Furthermore, we are told that the benefits far outweigh any possible negative consequences.  About the Dakota pipeline the developers told us it “wouldn’t just be an economic boon, it would also significantly decrease U.S. reliance on foreign oil…”  About the proposed LNG terminal in Warrenton, just across the river, we were told…  “the West Coast needs foreign LNG to avert economic crisis, and this ‘clean’ fuel will serve as a ‘bridge’ to a renewable energy future.”

So far, our Astoria/Warrenton neighbors are holding firm and seem to be prevailing.  But how many more environmental safety battles will be lost in our lifetime?  How many Hanfords does it take?  How many down-winders?  And how many salutes to history and facility tours to assuage horrified consciousness? OMG!

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