Corporate video on Washington state radioactive capsules overlooks a couple of key points
Sometimes, a corporate video is more interesting for what it doesn't mention.
CH2M Hill operates the Waste Encapsulation Storage Facility, which is 400 kilometres southeast of Vancouver in Hanford, Washington.
The complex contains nearly 2,000 highly radioactive capsules of strontium-90 and cesium-137, which are a byproduct of plutonium production.
The video below mentions that workers recently moved 800 of these capsules. That's "because it helps redistribute high levels of heat generated by the radioactive contents".
CH2M Hill stores cesium and strontium in capsules.
CH2M Hill noted that 40 years ago, cesium and strontium were removed from high-level waste tanks at Hanford to reduce the temperature in these areas.
The corporate video offers congratulations to the workers on a job well done. But it neglects to mention a few things that might be of interest to people who live downwind from the Waste Encapsulation Storage Facility.
The first is how fatal these capsules would be if there was ever an accident allowing this radioactive material to be released.
Strontium-90, which is found in the waste from nuclear reactors, will burst into flames in the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Strontium-90 is chemically similar to calcium, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow)," the EPA states on its website "Thus, strontium-90 is referred to as a 'bone seeker.' Internal exposure to Sr-90 is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. Risk of cancer increases with increased exposure to Sr-90."
Exposure to cesium-137 also increases a person's cancer risk, according to the EPA.
"If exposures are very high, serious burns, and even death, can result," the EPA website states. "Instances of such exposure are very rare. One example of a high-exposure situation would be the mishandling a strong industrial cesium-137 source. The magnitude of the health risk depends on exposure conditions. These include such factors as strength of the source, length of exposure, distance from the source, and whether there was shielding between you and the source (such as metal plating)."
The CH2M Hill video also didn't mention the existence of an earthquake fault running underneath the Cascades Mountains and reaching the Hanford area.
Last March in a presentation at SFU Harbour Centre marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima earthquake, Seattle physician Tom Buchanan pointed out that the Cascades have actually moved 1.37 metres over the past three centuries.
Buchanan, vice president of Washington State Physicians for Social Responsibility, explained that the faultline runs from Whidbey Island in Puget Sound underneath the Cascades to southeastern Washington.
"It's much less active, but there's an actual electronic measure now that people have of that fault line—and that would probably activate if something happens in the Cascades," he said. "Even though Hanford is in eastern Washington, that might be affected. Nobody has talked about that in the emergency planning."
CH2M Hill made no connection between the decision to move 800 capsules and any earthquake risk in the area.
The Columbia Generating Station near Hanford is the only commercially operated nuclear-power plant in the region.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.