Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2013
HANFORD, Washington — The Washington State Department of Health is investigating the discovery of radioactivity outside the plastic packaging of a recent shipment from the Hanford Site. Contaminated “glove boxes” — used to manipulate plutonium during past nuclear weapons production — arrived at Perma-Fix Northwest in Richland, Washington, a company that prepares rad waste for disposal. On June 19, state regulators were informed of the plutonium contamination, but according to Perma-Fix, no plutonium escaped the garage where the waste was unloaded. A report uncovered by King 5 News in Seattle tells a different story.
According to the state health department, the truck’s rigging system, a forklift and several spots at Perma-Fix were contaminated with plutonium. Workers weren’t wearing protective clothing when handling the packages. The Energy Department (DOE), which runs the US nuclear weapons program, said the plutonium contamination was minor and that liability for the contamination rested not with the DOE but with Perma-Fix and the state. The accident followed one in March 2012, when a mislabeled container from Hanford, caused a radioactive spill on a concrete floor which then had to be jackhammered, packaged and disposed of as radioactive waste. Perma-Fix has a $23 million contract for waste disposal with the DOE at Hanford. — King 5 News, July 2 & 30 & June 15; Seattle Times, June 26; Tri-City Herald, June 25 & 28, 2013