Little-Known US Nuclear Site Is 'Chernobyl Waiting to Happen'

Workers at Hanford facility say they're being sickened while the government remains indifferent
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2016 5:19 PM CST
Updated Dec 1, 2016 4:33 AM CST
Little-Known US Nuclear Site Is 'Chernobyl Waiting to Happen'
Workers wearing protective clothing and footwear inspect a valve at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

An investigative piece by NBC News includes some damning quotes from nuclear experts about the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington state, including "the most toxic place in America" and "an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen." For the story, NBC sat down with 11 current and former workers at the site, which is currently undergoing a 50-year, $110 billion cleanup. They complained of dementia, nerve damage, pain so bad they "just pass out," memory loss, difficulty breathing, and more from exposure to dangerous vapors arising from leaking tanks containing 56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste. Employees say they are discouraged from requesting safety equipment, such as air tanks. "We're told daily that it's safe," one current worker says.

But two dozen studies have found otherwise, and a watchdog group says at least three deaths have been linked to time spent at Hanford. One Washington official calls it an "absolute scandal," and the state attorney general is suing the federal government, which owns the site. In a response to the NBC piece, the Department of Energy says the safety of Hanford workers is its highest priority, the Tri-City Herald reports. It denies vapors are present at dangerous levels where workers are and says it's looking into new safety measures. Meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal, two contractors working on a treatment facility at Hanford agreed to pay $125 million this month in a settlement over allegations they did shoddy work and made false statements. (Danger lurks in an abandoned Army base buried beneath the ice.)

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