|Map - Courtesy of USDOE
The 100 Area
This is the area where nine nuclear reactors were built between 1944 and 1964. They were located beside the Columbia River to utilize the waters of the River for cooling. The first to be built was the B reactor. By 1955, there were eight plutonium producing reactors along the river. All of these were production reactors designed to irradiate uranium fuel rods to create plutonium. This was the largest number of production reactors to be placed on one river anywhere in the world. These radioactive discharges to the River resulted in Oregon State’s Public Health Division declaring the Columbia River the most radioactive river in the free world in the 1960’s.
The direct release of all of these reactors’ untreated cooling waters was the single largest source of con-tamination to the River from the Hanford site. An Atomic Energy Commission/General Electric document from 1954 stated that releases to the River were approximately 8,000 curies of radiation per day (Doc. #HW32809). Concern was expressed in that document about the high radioactivity in the river, “...with projected increases 5 to 10 fold.” If these estimated increases were correct, between 15 million and 30 million curies of radiation were released to the Columbia River annually in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The document goes on to state, “It may be necessary to close public fishing between Priest Rapids and McNary Dam. The public relations impact would be severe.” Using their calculations, by 1960, more radiation was released than in the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl. In addition to the reactors releasing contaminated cooling water into the River, there are more than 450 waste sites in the 100 Area where liquid and solid wastes were buried. Many of these waste sites have contaminated groundwater, and some are still an ongoing source of groundwater contamination that is moving toward the river. N-Springs problems, with strontium-90 and chromium contamination, will be discussed in depth in the areas on these specific contaminants.
The 200 Area
This centrally located site is the most grossly contaminated area in North America and possibly the world. This area was used for chemical separation of plutonium from fuel rods irradiated in the nine production reactors. Facilities in the 200 area include the PUREX plant built in 1956, the REDOX facility built in 1953, the B plant built in 1945, and the T plant built in 1944. These are the sources of contaminant plumes in the 200 Area. Billions of gallons of liquid radioactive and chemical waste were released annually to the soil column. More than 180 square miles of groundwater is contaminated.
The 200 Area is also the location of 177 underground storage tanks of high level radioactive and chemical waste. 149 of these tanks are single shell tanks constructed between 1943 and 1964. Sixty-eight have been confirmed leakers, and at least 1 million gallons of waste have leaked out of the waste tanks. In the 200 Area alone, over 121 million gallons of tank waste were discharged to the soil between 1946 and 1966. Almost all of the tanks have exceeded their designed life expectancy, and the 53 million gallons of tank waste is now considered the largest threat to the Columbia River. The threat is so severe that Congress created the Office of River Protection to focus on the treatment of tank waste. The plan is to build a vitrification facility that will process the remaining 53 million gallons of high level radioactive waste and make it into glass. The high-level portion of this vitrified waste is planned to be buried at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada.
The 300 Area
This area, where uranium was fabricated into fuel rods, is another source of contamination to the Columbia River. These fuel rods were used in the production reactors which produced plutonium. These facilities are known as fuel fabrication facilities. In addition, chemical and radiological laboratories and research and testing facilities are located here. One crib and four trenches are located only thirty feet from groundwater and a few hundred feet from the River. Thirty leaks and spills have been reported, and a uranium plume that reaches the River exceeds drinking water standards. major ones affecting the Columbia River.