July 18, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Richland, WA – Workers cleaning up radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation stopped work July 12, saying that they won’t go back until they are given air respirators when working around underground storage tanks at the site.
The stoppage involves about 2,000 workers at the tank farms where highly toxic plutonium waste from nuclear-weapons production—including by-products from the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945—are stored in steel tanks. Washington River Protection Solutions, the private contractor that runs the tank farms, generally requires people to wear respirators while working near the 149 older single-walled storage tanks, but won’t provide them for work at the 28 newer double-walled tanks. More than 50 workers have reported headaches, bloody noses, and respiratory symptoms after smelling vapors from both types of tanks. “I believe there is a safety risk to workers inside the tank farms,” Dave Molnaa, president of the 15-union Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, told the Associated Press. Read more