Radiological hazard is the uncontrolled release of radioactive material that can harm people or damage the environment.
Washington State areas capable of radiological release are Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant located 14 miles north northwest of Richland, the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) Hanford Site, military bases, medical and research facilities, private industry, and trucks, trains, aircraft and vessels moving across the state carrying radiological materials.
Columbia Generating Station (CGS). Energy Northwest operates the commercial nuclear power plant called Columbia Generating Station which is located on the Hanford Site, north of Richland. Effects of an emergency at the plant could range from no radioactive release to a radioactive release that would initiate the evacuation of the general population within an approximate radius of 10 miles of the facility. Sirens, tone alert radios, electronic telephonic notification systems and local media stations would alert the community. Radioactive materials from a release may enter the human food chain via crops or dairy products out to an approximate radius of 50 miles from the facility. Meteorological conditions can influence the size of the contaminated area.
There is an emergency preparedness program in place for CGS and the surrounding counties (Adams, Benton, Franklin, Grant, Walla Walla and Yakima) as required by federal regulations, the operating license, and the siting permit for CGS. The Washington Military Department, Department of Health, and Department of Agriculture are also closely involved in this program.
Hanford Site. The United States Department of Energy’s (USDOE) Hanford Site sits on 586-square-miles of shrub-steppe desert in southeastern Washington near the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. About 51 miles of the Columbia River runs through the site. The Hanford Site is the most contaminated site in North America, holding more than 60 percent of the nation's highly radioactive and chemically hazardous wastes left over from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War era. Operations began in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and continued until 1987 when the last reactor ceased operation. Weapons production processes left solid and liquid wastes that posed a risk to the local environment including the Columbia River. Part of the Hanford Site includes spent nuclear fuel storage tanks, mixed waste storage tanks and other nuclear waste. Large quantities of industrial chemicals and wastes are stored and used around the Hanford Site. Today, the mission of the Hanford Site is to clean up the legacy wastes left over from the Cold War production processes. A radiological and/or chemical incident could originate from one or more of the facilities on the Hanford Site.
Like the Columbia Generating Station, there is an emergency preparedness program for the Hanford Site for Benton, Franklin, and Grant Counties. The Washington Military Department, Department of Health and Department of Agriculture are involved in that program, as well.
Framatome. Framatome operates a nuclear fuel fabrication facility in north Richland, adjacent to the USDOE Hanford Site. They manufacture fuel rods for nuclear power plants around the world. As part of their license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they maintain an emergency preparedness program that includes planning, coordinating and exercising with Benton and Franklin Counties. This facility uses both radiological and chemical materials in the manufacturing processes. However, the chemical hazard is a larger public health concern than the radiological hazard.
Licensed Radioactive Materials. The Washington State Department of Health licenses nearly 400 facilities in the state that use radioactive materials. These are categorized in three major groups: medical, industrial and laboratory. Hospitals, clinics, laboratories and research facilities routinely use radiation in the diagnosis and treatment of medical and dental patients. Industrial applications include various flow gauges, research and development facilities, and radiography to non-destructive test welds and castings for flaws. Medical, industrial, and research use of radiological materials similarly dictate the need for local emergency planning. Some of the hazards posed to the communities would be like that of the Columbia Generating Station or the USDOE Hanford Site but much, much smaller in terms of scale and impacts.
Military Bases. Local communities and facilities need to be aware of potentially hazardous nuclear and radiological activities. Military bases that receive, ship and store nuclear materials as follows:
- Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Kitsap County)
- Naval Base Kitsap (Kitsap County)
- Naval Base Everett (Snohomish County)
- Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Pierce County)
- Fairchild Air Force Base (Spokane County)
Although great safety precautions are used and the risk is quite low, an accident could occur. Basic local radiological incident planning, training and exercising are needed to mitigate and respond to potential incidents. This is especially true in communities where there are large concentrations of radioactive material.
While the probability of a radiological release is small, the consequences can be catastrophic. Therefore, some level of radiological planning as a part of the communities' hazardous materials plan would likely be adequate for most communities that do not have a major radiological fixed facility located within its jurisdiction.
Tips and Information about Radiological Hazards
Radiological Information for Farmers, Food Processors and Distributors:
Food Security/Radiological Emergency Information:
Radiological Information for the General Public:
- General Radiation Fact Sheets from Washington Department of Health (PDF)
- Emergency Resource Guide 2016 (PDF)
- Washington State Department of Agriculture
- Washington State Department of Health
- United States Department of Energy-Hanford Site
- United States Department of Defense
- United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Federal Emergency Management Agency