Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Earth Science

Tests Show Workers At Hanford Nuclear Facility Inhaled Radioactive Plutonium (king5.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from King 5, a local news station for Seattle, Washington: On June 8 approximately 350 Hanford workers were ordered to "take cover" after alarms designed to detect elevated levels of airborne radioactive contamination went off. It was quickly determined that radioactive particles had been swept out of a containment zone at the plutonium finishing plant (PFP) demolition site. The work is considered the most hazardous demolition project on the entire nuclear reservation. At the time Hanford officials called the safety measure "precautionary." Officials from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which owns Hanford, and the contractor in charge of the demolition, CH2M Hill, downplayed the seriousness of the event with statements including, it appeared "workers were not at risk", "(the alarm went off) in an area where contamination is expected" and there was "no evidence radioactive particles had been inhaled" by anyone.

The KING 5 Investigators have discovered those statements are incorrect. An internal CH2M Hill email sent to their employees on July 21 was obtained by KING. It states that 301 (test kits) have been issued to employees and of the first 65 workers tested, a "small number of employees" showed positive results for "internal exposures" (by radioactive plutonium). Sources tell KING the "small number of employees" is twelve. Twelve people out of 65 is 20 percent. Still outstanding are 236 tests. A communication specialist with CH2M Hill sent a statement that more positive results are expected. "We expect additional positive results because analytical tests like a bioassay can detect radiological contamination at levels far lower than what field monitoring can detect," said Destry Henderson of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Tests Show Workers At Hanford Nuclear Facility Inhaled Radioactive Plutonium

Comments Filter:
  • by ZecretZquirrel ( 610310 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:10PM (#54937331)
    ...but the toxicity of Pu itself that'll getcha.
    • by Namarrgon ( 105036 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:26PM (#54937399) Homepage

      It's true that Plutonium is highly toxic, but an airborne particle is probably not enough to cause significant health effects from that (the toxology profile [cdc.gov] suggests the level for that is 10 ppm) - depending on how many are inhaled of course.

      But the radiation is indeed the bigger hazard. Plutonium's long half-life means it's not as dangerously radioactive as some other elements - so long as exposure is relatively brief or distant (inverse square law applies). When it gets inside you though, it sticks in there for decades, and at that extremely close range the radiation is a lot more powerful, so your chances of cancer go up significantly.

      • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:34PM (#54937437) Journal

        The problem with Plutonium is, it wanders into the bone marrow.
        That means even very small amounts are deadly. Per kg weight the deadly dose is about 0.32mg.
        Of course it is unlikely the workers inhaled that much. OTOH, a lower dose might be deadly, too. If you have bad luck.

      • It is an alpha emitter, so yeah, I would worry about the radiation. Those things can do a number on you if you ingest them.
        • Lots of things can 'do a number' if you ingest them, and you ingest a lot of those things every single day. Its all about concentration, and for some reason people always assume radioactive contamination are orders of magnitude greater than they really are, and greatly overestimate the risks they actually present. And then you get the FUD about how ingesting even the smallest amount is some kind of lingering cancer just waiting to happen. Then you get the 'attaches to the bone' FUD which NEVER discusses act
          • The Headlines;

            Thieves Who Stole Cobalt-60 in Mexico Are Likely Dead Or Dying
            Mexican Cobalt-60 robbers are DEAD MEN, say authorities
            Mexican cobalt-60 thieves will soon die of radiation exposure
            Stolen cobalt-60 found in Mexico; thieves may be doomed

            The Reality; All were released from the hospital, with only one showing some exposure effects. None is likely to have any long term health issues.

            http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/06/... [cnn.com]

            Of course when I argued at the time that the fears were overblown right
      • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

        They could do the trick where you fill the lungs with breathable fluid and vacuum it back out. That might get most of it out.

      • Smokers are exposed to the highest levels of alpha radiation encountered by any group of humans on the planet (polonium), but the vast majority of cancers which develop in ex-smokers seem to be catalysed by the breakdown products of that radiation (berylium features heavily in the decay chain and it's a major carcinogen) rather than the radiation.

        • Smokers are exposed to the highest levels of alpha radiation encountered by any group of humans on the planet (polonium), but the vast majority of cancers which develop in ex-smokers seem to be catalysed by the breakdown products of that radiation (berylium features heavily in the decay chain

          Huh?

          That's a Wheeler-ism : "not even wrong".

          Polonium has isotopes

          1. 208 (alpha decay to 204Pb, which is stable ; positron emission to 208Bi, which is sort-of-stable (~10^19 years half life) ;
          2. 209 (alpha decay to 205Pb
      • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        It's true that Plutonium is highly toxic, but an airborne particle is probably not enough to cause significant health effects from that (the toxology profile [cdc.gov] suggests the level for that is 10 ppm)

        This is talking about plutonium oxide and not plutonium chloride which is more soluble.

        • This was interesting:
        • Inhaled plutonium that has entered the blood appears to be largely bound to transferrin and becomes associated with iron-binding proteins such as ferritin and lipofuscin upon entering hepatocytes

        Iron-binding, as in it's an iron analogue to the body. So this seems to be saying that plutonium oxide does becomes organically bound, which means it can accumulate in the lungs, dammit, I thought it was e

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Pu is not toxic in these doses. It will pretty reliably cause lung-cancer from the radioactivity though.

      • Pu is not toxic in these doses. It will pretty reliably cause lung-cancer from the radioactivity though.

        No, it almost certainly will not cause lung cancer in these amounts.

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          Actually, it will. They are talking 1 milirem, which as high-energy Alpha, directly on vulnerable lung tissue is quite a lot. The number is only that low because Alpha has basically no reach. That does not protect the cells in reach at all though. Misdirection of this type is quite common in the utterly criminal nuclear industry.

          • Actually, it will. They are talking 1 milirem, which as high-energy Alpha, directly on vulnerable lung tissue is quite a lot. The number is only that low because Alpha has basically no reach. That does not protect the cells in reach at all though. Misdirection of this type is quite common in the utterly criminal nuclear industry.

            No, it most likely won't. The fact that you speak in absolute terms tells me you are ignorant to the associated risk. There is an increase in risk, but that does not make it probable. Stating untruths based on your ignorant assumptions helps no one.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The *first* reaction when these events occur is to lie and initiate a cover-up, followed by down-played reports from "officials".

    This happens **EVERY** time.

    See - 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Hanford, etc. etc. etc And the list goes on.

    THERE IS ALWAYS A LIE AND A COVER UP... EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  • I bet (Score:1, Insightful)

    by meglon ( 1001833 )
    I bet these workers are so incredibly glad nuclear power is such a clean source of energy.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They took one for the team. I wonder if your grandchildren will thank them 50 years from now when sea levels haven't risen quite as much as they otherwise would have? I'm guessing... nope.
    • Re: I bet (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wasn't Hanford intended for nuclear weapons development?

    • Re: I bet (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hanford was from the bad old days of nuclear weapons development where everything was done as fast and cheaply as possible. It has nothing to do with power generation

      • Military sites worldwide are responsible for the vast majority of nuclear accidents and pollution.

        Civil sites have tended to be risk-averse but military operated reactors and processing plants have always played fast and loose with protocols and safety.

    • And how many people have died of black lung?

      • by meglon ( 1001833 )
        How many have died from solar, wind, or wave?
        • by quenda ( 644621 )

          How many have died from solar, wind, or wave?

          15,000 killed in one day by wave when the Fukushima plant failed. Zero by radiation.
          Funny how some people forget that perspective.

          • by meglon ( 1001833 )
            Are you intentionally trying to be obtuse, or simply too fucking stupid to understand the question. A tsunami created by an earthquake doesn't equal electrical power generation using waves/ocean currents... it's a random fucking act of nature. Jesus, you people need to start using that mass of grey matter in your head for something other than keeping your ears apart.

            https://www.boem.gov/Ocean-Wav... [boem.gov]
            • by quenda ( 644621 )

              Are you deliberately trying to sound stupid by inappropriate use of the work "fucking", you shit-eating cunt-faced Trump-voter?

              Its called context. Few have died from solar, wind, waves, or nuclear energy. Twice nothing is nothing.
                Large-scale fatalities have occurred from coal and hydroelectric.

              Look at numbers per GW.hr, and don't forget the effects of coal smog, acid rain, and global warming.

              • by meglon ( 1001833 )

                15,000 killed in one day by wave when the Fukushima plant failed.

                It is called context.

                Not a single fucking person died at Fukushima because of an accident in the wave energy production industry. Pompeii wasn't an accident in the geothermal industry, hurricane Katrina wasn't an accident in the wind energy industry, and the Carrington Event wasn't an accident in the solar energy industry.... and a fucking tsunami isn't an accident in the wave energy industry, no matter how much of a fucking imbecile you are. YOU are the dipshit that said it.

                As for grab-them-by-the

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by SnowZero ( 92219 )

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam [wikipedia.org]
          171,000 killed, or 40x the deaths attributable to the Chernobyl disaster.

          You can say we (mostly) don't build dams like that anymore, but we don't build reactors like Chernobyl anymore either.

          • by meglon ( 1001833 )
            And? Hydro-electric dams are not wind, solar, or wave. Hydro energy production is about on par with solar, wind and thermal (our wave energy production is basically nil) as of 2008, the difference in them being: solar and wind are growing, fast... hydro not so much. Wave....well...we have a huge amount of available area's for it, and apparently no balls to actually do it. It's like a lot of things currently, we've ceded it to some other country because we have idiots in charge, and too many people think
        • More than 9,000 per year from skin cancer.

    • by doom ( 14564 )

      I bet these workers are so incredibly glad nuclear power is such a clean source of energy.

      Try to make some minor effort to know what you're talking about. The issues with Hanford have nothing to do with civilian power generation. Just quoting the summary: "...radioactive particles had been swept out of a containment zone at the plutonium finishing plant (PFP) demolition site."; Or you could try Hanford Site [wikipedia.org]: "The Hanford Site is a mostly decommissioned nuclear production complex"

      Even if this was an inci

    • Re:I bet (Score:4, Informative)

      by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @09:46PM (#54937989)

      I bet these workers are so incredibly glad nuclear power is such a clean source of energy.

      But since Hanford was a nuclear weapons plant, this story has nothing to do with sources of energy.

    • I bet these workers are so incredibly glad nuclear power is such a clean source of energy.

      I can tell you for a fact they are. Hanford was the employer of an entire town at one time (Richland). It was built to house them. Now the only jobs available are what they are doing.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    X-ray vision's not as appealing as it was in the 1950s because there are so many obese American women now, so they should probably hope for the ability to keep over tall buildings instead.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:22PM (#54937381) Journal

    Twelve people out of 65 is 20 percent.

    18.5%, if you round up, mathlete.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Rounding percentages on workers whose lives are threatened, meh, 20% or less easy to replace. I also really like this bit of PR twaddle, "the person with a does of one millirem would receive a dose less than a tenth of a standard xray", there not so bad, but fuckers, they are having that 1/10th xray every second of everyday for the rest of their expected to be fairly short lives. They had alarms where they expected there might be exposure, then why the fuck were they not in suits with contained air, oh I kn

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:24PM (#54937391)

    How likely is it that this anonymous reader is mdsolar?

  • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @07:26PM (#54937397)
    The summary and the articles leave out some pretty important information. How much radiation were workers exposed to?

    There's one part where CH2M Hill claimed less than you would receive during a chest x-ray, but then it quotes someone else who claims that claim is BS.
    • The summary and the articles leave out some pretty important information. How much radiation were workers exposed to?

      If they inhaled particles, some of the particles still may be in their bodies, and they're still being exposed.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Plutonium's a heavy metal. It's also quite chemically active. Probably most of what they inhaled that wasn't exhaled in the next breath will stay with them for life.

        I'm no expert, but if that isn't true, I'd like to know the mechanism.

        • by wagnerer ( 53943 )

          The mucus in the lungs will capture a lot and the cilia will transport it up to the throat where it will be swallowed. Most of that will then transport through the digestive system and excreted. Some will be taken up by the body and at that point you have the various blood filters like the kidneys and liver capturing some and excreting it. The efficiencies of the various mechanisms will vary based on the chemical state of the Pu as inhaled and as its processed in the digestive system.

          • by HiThere ( 15173 )

            What you say is true of a non-reactive dust, like, say coal. But Plutonium is supposed to have a strong affinity for tissue that tends to lead it to lodge in the bones. So I don't think the kidneys and liver would excrete much. I suppose being a *heavy* metal wouldn't impair the actions of the mucus/cilia much, but I believe it would result in extensive absorption in the intestines.

            If you are an expert in the field, then I apologize, for being so dubious about your explanation, as it *could* happen that

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      The problem is that "how much exposure" may not be the right question.

      The plutonium was inhaled. Which means we're now talking about chemistry and physiology, not just physics. Inhalation is not like getting irradiated from an external source, the exact chemical form of plutonium (oxide? nitrate?) makes a difference because it determines where it goes. Is it excreted? Does it stay in the lungs? Does it migrate somewhere else?

      So it's not easy to come up with a single number which characterizes the seriou

      • Plutonium migrates into the bone marrow.

      • Weapons plutonium isn't very radioactive (as in - slightly, but not as much as you'd think) - which is why it has such a long halflife.

        Some isotopes are more radioactive (and hence have shorter halflives), but you don't want these in a nuke as they cause premature detonation or a fizzle.

        Given this is Hanford, the odds are good that the plutonium involved is the former type, not the latter.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      That's not so trivial to measure as with x-rays, gamma rays etc and one of the reasons Putin's guys used another alpha particle emitter, Polonium, as a difficult to detect poison.
      Any amount ingested/inhaled is considered unsafe and the idea is to get it out before it's been in there so long. Then it's the cancer lottery - was there enough damage while it was in there for only a tiny chance or certain cancer?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Orgasmatron ( 8103 )

      Right now, the final dose evaluation for the first 65 bioassays show a small number of employees with a dose of less than or equal to 1 millirem. Internal exposures are doses that are measured in millirem the person is expected to receive over the span of 50 years.

      For context, CH2M has an administrative dose limit of 500 millirem per year, which are well below the legal limits of 5,000 millirem per year. The results received show a very low internal contamination dose that is significantly less than a typi

      • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @10:51PM (#54938195)
        Except you failed at physics of how the different types of radiation work. We are dealing with an internal alpha source, not an external alpha source. Alpha sources are 1000 times more dangerous when inhaled or ingested (1000 times is not a made up number, this has been experimentally shown, see "Effect of Dose Rate on the Induction of Experimental Lung Cancer in Hamsters by Alpha Radiation" 1985 study).

        The reason is quite simple, alpha radiation has extremely poor penetration capability (2-3 layers of paper is enough to stop it, which is less than the layers of dead skin cells we have on top of our actual skin). As a result, external alpha sources are not very dangerous. But put that source inside the body, where it is past the dead skin that protects you, and suddenly, you have a cancer generator sitting right next to cells that it can reach.

        Given that this was Hanford, it was most likely Pu-239 that we are dealing with, which has a half-life of 24,100 years. The only way it will exit the body once ingested or inhaled is if it manages to be coughed up (unlikely), or absorbed into the blood stream/lymphic system and manage to travel out as excrement without getting trapped in say the liver, kidneys, lymph nodes, or any of the other pathways within the body (at which point it will then most likely cause enough DNA damage to surrounding cells to create cancer).
        • Don't you think it would have been a good idea to find out the difference between a rad and a rem before you typed that all out?

        • The odds of cancer being generated from alpha emission is slim to almost nonexistent. The typical reaction of a cell hit by alphas is to _die_ and if it doesn't, it will probably be killed by its neighbours.

          Polonium-as-a-poison works by exposing someone to high enough doses that large numbers of body cells are killed - it's straight out radiation poisoning, not cancer. That's a dose thousands, if not millions of times higher than the amounts found in a smoker's lungs.

          Nuclear radiation doesn't guarantee canc

  • These workers that have been identified as possibly exposed should have a "Whole body scan" that will be the gold standard. My prayers go out to them and their families.
    • These workers that have been identified as possibly exposed should have a "Whole body scan" that will be the gold standard. My prayers go out to them and their families.

      One reactor that melted in Japan was being used for nuclear reduction - unenriched Uranium mixed with plutonium.

    • by wagnerer ( 53943 )

      Not effective with internal alpha contamination. The radiation can't escape the body since alphas interact so strongly with matter and their energy is completely absorbed. At this point you need to do measurements of excreta. Hopefully it'll be at the undetectable levels.

  • That would be me and three cities, Hanford is next door to us. Local Paper on event http://www.tri-cityherald.com/... [tri-cityherald.com]

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Where do you get your water? One reason for the cleanup is that it started leaking into the water. (They may have caught this almost immediately, I read the story a few years ago, but that was what finally convinced them to do the cleanup.)

      • Where do you get your water? One reason for the cleanup is that it started leaking into the water. (They may have caught this almost immediately, I read the story a few years ago, but that was what finally convinced them to do the cleanup.)

        The clean up is the closure of Hanford, water leaking may have accelerated the process. It's a very large "Production area". extrusion for fuel production, to the Reactors, to the Plutonium Finishing Plant. They have been at it for many years now and still good work (salary wise) if you can get it.

        All of the decomissioned reactors were cleaned up and "moth balled" or buried as can be seen with Google Earth. They lined the river, the one with a steam plant and off to the side moved earth is where the reactor

  • "Radioactive" Plutonium?
    Is there any other kind?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Is there any other kind?"

      Well, there's the Pu-36, that goes into the Explosive Space Modulator. When not inserted, it is quite harmless. It's got Electrolytes.

      (This is a decades long joke by Seaborg, who nicknamed Plutonium "Pee U", from the Latin "Puteo", which means "It Stinks". He was expecting to be overruled, expecting "Pl" instead, since "Pt" was already taken by Platinum. However his original suggestion stuck. When it came to naming his own Element, Seaborgium, "S" was taken by Sulfur, "Se" was take

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @08:13PM (#54937611)
    The industrial accident is tragic but the "spin" is worse because it can lead to poor precautions and more accidents.
    The point here is not about using nukes or not (the stuff exists and has to be dealt with), it's about the lying sacks of shit who hurt everyone by doing so - even their own cause.

    Nuke fanboys, if you want to know why we don't have reactors everywhere it's due to these lying sacks of shit making it so an entire industry is not trusted and not the powerless hippies you keep blaming.
  • If you're going to get a dose, there are a lot worse ways it could happen. The only thing to watch is a whole lung exposure might be low but the pulmonary macrophage in your lungs concentrate the dose as they clean up the particulates.

    I've been in those buildings and worked on that cleanup. Compared to some of the routine doses workers used to get in the old days that wasn't all that large. If you adjust the cancer rate for age, Hanford workers have a lower cancer rate than the broader population.

    • by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Thursday August 03, 2017 @10:15PM (#54938083)

      No, no! This is an official Mdsolar Anti-Nuke Story(tm). You are not allowed to bring facts or data into the discussion. You are not allowed to mention hormesis. You must bow down before LNT. You must, like the doctors in the article, speak in vague generalities - "Well gosh, radiation is invisible and scary. Forget the data, anything at all could happen if you get some in your body!"

      I've come to recognize that Nuclear Derangement Syndrome was a practice run. The symptoms are identical to the new trendy disease: Trump Derangement Syndrome.

  • Clearly we should just impose harsh discipline on the affected workers for knowingly stealing hazardous nuclear materials from their job site.

    Won't actually solve any problems; but should reduce the number of reports of problems.
  • That's too bad. But even if those twelve people all die, it will be fewer than those that are killed by coal. According to one study, a single coal power plant kills more people in one week. And dying due to lung disease is a shitty way to go. Wikipedia on mortality associated with coal power plants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • Radioactive Plutonium?!
    You don't say!

    Ever seen non-radioactive plutonium?

ASCII a stupid question, you get an EBCDIC answer.

Working...