Hanford: North America’s Fukushima

by Miriam German

The Occupy Portland rally, Hanford: North America’s Fukushima, came about from a simple request from an Occupier originally from Tri-Cities. My friend called me one night to ask if we could do something about the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site. Anything. She called me because as well as being a musician, I’ve been involved in the anti-nuke movement for a few decades. I thought it would be a good idea to expose to the People, the terrible environmental tragedy that has been going on at Hanford for decades. Within hours, the rally was formed and moving forward.

I told my friend that what I thought was most tragic is that most people in Portland, let alone the rest of North America, don’t know what Hanford is or that it even exists. I thought that the first step to learning anything is awareness. Let’s get the best anti-nuke speakers we can to come talk about nukes, nuke waste, Hanford, the effects of Hanford on the Columbia River, the effects of Hanford on the indigenous peoples across WA/ID/OR, the dis-organized and often malfunctioning cleanup at Hanford, and bring in additional information about the Columbia Generating Station, the only working nuclear plant in the NW. So that is what we’ve done. On April 15th at Noon at the Jon Dam Plaza in Richland, WA, the home of the workers and Contractors at Hanford, Occupy Portland will be bringing the rock stars of the anti-nuke movement to you, to explain in plain truth, what the hell is going on in our backyard.

External Oversight.

We need as a people to convince our government that we need external oversight for the cleanup at Hanford. When the banks oversee the banks, we have a total breakdown in lawful activity. It is no different at Hanford. The cleanup is run by the DOE and the DOE is in charge of oversight for the cleanup. How many of you reading this know about the leak at Hanford that happened in early February, 2012? Not many? You are not meant to find out. How many of you know how much money has gone to Bechtel, the largest contractor in charge of the cleanup? Not many? According to a report from AlterNet, “final costs for the Hanford cleanup process could exceed $120 billion.” This is because we have very few people invested in conducting a proper cleanup, one which would be safe not only to the workers within Hanford, but to all of us living on the planet, the animals, the birds, the fish and rivers, the wildlife on the Hanford Reserve, the people nearby, downwind and far away.

External oversight would also improve the process of setting dates upon which certain aspects of the project must be completed. We must establish concrete dates, with science backing what can and can’t be completed safely.

So what is happening at Hanford?

There are many tanks in the tank farm on the property filled with nuclear waste and other unknown toxic contaminants which are leaking into the ground and into the ground water of Hanford. The containers in which the materials are kept are breaking down and cracking. The materials held in these tanks need to be moved from the tank farm to the vitrification (“vit”) plant wherein the contaminants will be heated and turned into glass rods. The rods will have their own new containers, which yes, will also eventually rot and leak in the future. This is why there is no such thing as clean nuclear energy. In order to get the liquid sludge from the tank farm to the vit plant, the sludge must move through a tube to get there. Another big problem. The nuclear sludge must be agitated at a certain and specific rate in order to prevent hydrogen gasses from collecting. If those hydrogen gasses collect in the tube, an explosion may occur. There is an ongoing conversation right now about how big that explosion could be, because some contractors would like to bypass the time and scientific aspect of the move to earn $$’s for having it moved by the deadline. Deadlines equal money, and money is the game.

“We are not in the construction and engineering business. We are in the business of making money.” — Former Bechtel President, Steve Bechtel Sr.

photo via Wikipedia

The Yakama, Nez Perce and Umatilla Indians would like to have their land back and in working order. For that to happen, and if that can happen, the cleanup must move forward. But the problems are extensive and corrosive. Money and greed are at the top of the list as problems, as I see it and as many in Occupy see it as well. Corruption breeds unsafe conditions not only for the people of North America, but for every sentient being in the world. Nuclear fallout, nuclear waters and nuclear mindsets all run downstream, like shit flowing downhill. There’s no stopping it once it gets out.


Storage tanks have been leaking since 1956. Over one million gallons of radioactive material are believed to have leaked into the ground since then. Hanford is less than 10 miles from Richland,WA and just about 200 or so miles north of Portland by way of the river. Hanford sits on many fault lines which lay beneath the Hanford Reserve. Workers and people near Hanford have higher risks of deadly diseases than those farther away. There are 2000 Downwinders in a case against Hanford in the courts over their health issues. Bechtel’s budget for the cleanup was originally $4.3 billion and is now $11.3 billion.


We know from our geologists that we in the Northwest are due for a very large earthquake any time now. Hanford sits on fault lines. We can pretend that everything is and will be fine, but the reality is far from it and there is no good news for its future or ours from the effects of more accidents.

What can you do?

As an Occupier, you can come with us to witness the stories and the realities told to us on April 15th in Richland. You can protest in front of the Columbia Generating Station, as there is a possibility of it closing down in the near future, with our efforts in combination with our incredible anti-nuke watch groups in the NW (Hanford Watch, Hanford Challenge, Heart of America). You can learn about the realities in Hanford, open your hearts to compassion for the people of Tri-Cities who work in the buildings and use the groundwater every day. You can lend a hand and a voice in our new environmental / anti-nuke Occupy groups. You can write to your Congresspeople and Senators to create laws for external oversight at Hanford for the cleanup. You can talk to Native Americans in the region to find out if they need any help with projects they are working on. There is lots to do. Get on the bus on April 15th and ride up to the rally with us.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, MD is our featured speaker at the rally and she is an expert on the effects of nuclear radiation pollution on the health of people and the planet. Paige Knight of Hanford Watch, a teacher at Occupy on the issues at Hanford, will be speaking. Chuck Johnson of the Columbia River Keeper is coming to talk about the Columbia Generating Station (CGS). Lloyd Marbet, who was behind the closure of the Trojan Nuke Plant, will be speaking. Peter Bergel of Oregon Peaceworks will be coming to talk about the links between Nukes and the War Machine.Many more speakers will attend.

More information is available at the website at http://hanfordrally.wordpress.com/about/. You can find info on transportation there as well.