The federal government, along with state regulators, have made the decision to halt the demolition of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington, after radiation exposure has threatened the health and safety of dozens of workers, ABC News reports. The plutonium processing plant, which was opened in the 1940s, is the site where portions of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, were assembled during World War II. Now, Hanford is the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site, costing the federal treasury around $2 billion per year to clean up.
In taking down the decommissioned plant over the last year, 42 workers have been shown to have inhaled, ingested or carried radioactive particles into their vehicles. Regulators have halted the demolition until a safe plan can be adopted that will protect workers from the exposure. The Energy Department, which owns the site, has launched an investigation into the site’s contamination problem.
"This is a very disturbing set of incidents," Tom Carpenter, head of the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge, said in the report.
While plutonium production was halted at the site in the 1980s to make way for cleanup efforts, worker contamination has been relatively rare up until now, according to Carpenter.
"It's one of the more serious events to happen in the age of cleanup at Hanford," Carpenter said. "There have been other incidents, but none rose to the level of plutonium contamination of this many people and private vehicles."
A union representative overseeing the interests of the site’s workers said that the situation is being closely monitored.
"We've got our eyes on (the Energy Department) and will do what we've got to do to keep workers safe," Paul Ruggles, vice-president of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, said according to the report.