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Hanford: A Nuclear Graveyard

Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America
Forfatter: Joshua Frank
Forlag: Haymarket Books, (USA)
USA / Hanford is classified as one of America's most toxic sites. The author calls it a ticking bomb à la Chernobyl. This is the most expensive environmental remediation project the world has ever seen, and the most polluted place on the entire planet.


The world is facing major energy challenges. Nuclear power will, according to many, be a relatively quick and efficient way of bringing about the green shift. But is it that simple? Will we be able to clean up and secure the nuclear issue wasteone afterwards? And is the will to do it great enough? The book Atomic Days shows that the narratives this industry is founded on are full of pollution, abuse and unanswered questions.

The Hanford Site (Hanford Site) is a large decommissioned nuclear weapons production complex along the Columbia River in the state of Washington, which borders Canada. The facility was established in 1943 and became part of the Manhattan Project, a large-scale program to be the first in the world to produce an atomic bomb. At the city of Hanford, the US authorities established the famous B reactor, which was responsible for the first full-scale production of it radioactivee the element plutonium – both a necessary fuel i nuclear reactorare and explosives in nuclear weapons. This led to the world's first two atomic bombs, which were dropped on Japan in 1945.

During the Cold War, the project was expanded with eight new reactors and other installations. It eventually produced most of the plutonium needed for the production of more than 60 nuclear weapons.


Global atomic imperialisme

Author Joshua Frank has a long-term perspective and tells about Hanford-the area's early history – and with a view from indigenoustribes such as the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Palouse. It is on their land that the production takes place, and eventually it turns out that this causes radioactive emissions. Commissions are set up that are given responsibility for cleaning up. But it's going slowly. According to the author, Hanford is today classified as one of America's giftyguest places. The author calls it a ticking bomb, à la et Chernobyl.

Among those who will be exempted are James Lovelock, Bill Gates and George Monbiot.

The facility is not far from the Columbia River, which is an important source of fish for the indigenous people. There is also seismic activity underground. What happens if an earthquake hits the place?

Today, Hanford no longer produces plutonium. Instead, there is a vast wasteland of radioactive and chemical sewage, writes the author. Billions have been spent on cleaning up the radioactive fallout that has already destroyed the area. Frank writes that this is the most expensive environmental remediations project the world has seen, and without a doubt the most polluted place on the entire planet.

Hanford is a vast wasteland of radioactive and chemical sewage.

So why, if all this is true, haven't we heard much about this bleak nuclear graveyardone, Frank asks. "Everyone" has heard of Three Mile Island, Fukushima and Chernobyl. Why not Hanford? He himself explains it by the fact that American colonialism led to the white USA displaced indigenous peoples and took their land. Here they built parts of their large nuclear weapons development program. The system did not serve to shine a spotlight on the land seizure that was carried out, or the damage it entailed for the environment and people. This also applies to what Frank calls global atomimperialisme, where island states and indigenous peoples have been exposed to land grabbing, test explosions and radioactive fallout. A lot has also been invested in infrastructure for everyone who came to Hanford as a workforce in their time, and they are not necessarily happy about negative publicity.

Harnessing the power of the sun

The author's hope, however, is that the story he tells in Atomic Days, will help speed up the clean-up of toxic and radioactive waste heaps. In a longer perspective, the book is also a general warning against nuclear power as a solution to our energy needs. Frank relentlessly targets those who argue and use his position to promote the nuclear alternative. Among those to be spared is the recently deceased researcher James Lovelock, billionaire Bill Gates and an intellectual counter-current voice such as George Monbiot. They all favor nuclear power as the solution to some of the world's problems. The author argues against this and covers it all with scientific sources.


I myself am skeptical of nuclear power as an energy solution and am having new arguments for my view confirmed. But many are now more open to this alternative than before, and the Christian People's Party opened the door to nuclear power at its national meeting in April 2023.

Does Frank himself have any solutions to bring to the market? He refers, among other things, to a report from 2021, The Sky is the Limit. Here, the British organization Carbon Tracker explains how wind and solar have the potential to meet the world's growing energy needs. Carbon Tracker concludes that there is absolutely no need for new nuclear power – in fact, we will be able to decommission all existing plants. We just need to harness the power of the sun. For example, every rooftop in the United States could house solar panels. The installation alone would create tens of thousands of green jobs, far more than the construction of nuclear power plants ever would.

Every 40 minutes, enough sun falls on the earth's surface to meet 100 percent of the globe's energy needs for an entire year.

That might be true? I once read online that Al Gore in 2008 gave a speech in which he said that every 40 minutes enough sun falls on the earth's surface to meet 100 percent of the globe's energy needs for a whole year. Gore therefore believed that it was possible for the US to produce all its electricity from renewable sources by 2018.

Others are more skeptical, also with science behind them, and point out that significant areas of land would have to be earmarked for this to work. There is hardly one correct answer with two lines below.

Still risk of meltdown

But we must constantly search for more knowledge. And as Frank writes, radioactive nuclear waste has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and the cost of cleanup is increasing. And yet the US authorities have not managed to clean up the Hanford site. Six years ago, the Ministry of Energy estimated that the total costs of clean-up were several hundred billion. Today, two billion are used annually. The Trump administration promoted the reclassification of the radioactive waste there from a high risk level to a low level, to save money. The Biden administration has reluctantly agreed to approve additional funding for the cleanup, according to Frank.

Meanwhile, radioactive material from Hanford is now being spread, and has reached as far as the Midwest, via the wind. In 2017, the demolition of the old finishing plant was plutonium stopped because radioactive dust was stirred up and hundreds of workers were exposed to harmful effects.

There is an ongoing meltdown risk at the Hanford site, according to Frank. But that's not enough; Frank describes how both the Ministry of Energy and Hanford's military contractors have for years deliberately exposed their employees to radioactive radiation, without protective equipment. Whistleblowers in Hanford have also been subjected to threats, which Frank documents.

Frank is an activist writer. I cannot vouch for all his claims. But I have no problem understanding that his description of what he calls a nuclear graveyard in the northwestern United States is important. No one is served by concealing such issues.

I Ukraine there is still a danger of acts of war affecting nuclear power plants there. And there are still enough nuclear weapons, and enough nuclear power plants in many countries today, that large parts of the world could end up as nuclear graveyards.

Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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