Fire at nuclear reservation sparks questions of safety

Richard Hughes, a lecturer and consultant on radiation safety with High-Rez Diagnostics, in Placerville, Calif., talked to the Monitor about safety precautions in light of the recent wildfire that swept Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Wash.

Did reports that the wildfire might lead to radiation release exaggerate the danger?

You can have fires so severe, so hot, affecting in some way metal and concrete structures, perhaps, but this is really far out. These materials - whatever building they're stored in - are stored in containers that are not flammable..., or [the] materials [are] buried underground where the fire cannot affect it.

How does Hanford rate in other safety areas?

The cleanup in Hanford is the worst [most challenging] in the nation, to the best of my knowledge. There are structures that have objects in them that can only be dismantled via robots because the radiation levels are too high for any human to enter.

What did we learn from the Three-Mile Island accident?

They did evaluations of the radiation in adjoining counties by shooting deer and taking their tongues - where the radioactive material tends to concentrate - and measuring the level.... There were no elevated radiation levels. In fact, the radiation levels were, in some cases, stated to be lower than areas very remote from there.

What are common misunderstandings about radiation?

My wife and I laugh every time we drive through a relatively small city. Where it says city limit, there will be a sign up saying "Nuclear-free zone." We know what they mean, of course, that they don't want to have reactors in that city. But all of those cities have radioactive materials in their hospitals for what we call nuclear imaging. Any town that has a research facility is going to have some radioactive materials.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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