Swallows Bring Radioactive Soil Into Hanford Waste Plant

By Anna King

Workers are back on the job at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste treatment plant. Work stopped this week when radioactive soil was found under the nests of some swallows.

Swallows have taken up residence at Hanford's massive waste treatment plant in southeast Washington. The mud the birds are using for nests is contaminated with nuclear waste. Photo courtesy of Bechtel.Swallows used some radioactive mud to make nests on exposed beamwork in Hanford’s waste treatment plant. That’s the 12-billion-dollar factory designed to bind-up radioactive sludge in glass logs. The nests were found during routine tests, but this is the first radioactive contamination of the new plant.

Swallows, it turns out, are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Act. So, it’s unclear yet whether the nests can be moved and whether work in that barricaded area can get back on track soon. Suzanne Heaston is a spokeswoman with Bechtel, the company building the plant at Hanford.

Suzanne Heaston: “We are retaining expert services to clean up the contamination. And to manage the protected species.”

Heaston says no workers have been contaminated. The last time there was a bird incident at the plant was 2009. Pigeons were creating slippery conditions for the workers below.

Photo: Swallows have taken up residence at Hanford's massive waste treatment plant in southeast Washington. The mud the birds are using for nests is contaminated with nuclear waste. Photo courtesy of Bechtel.

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