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Activist warns of nearby nuke risk


Radioactive clouds from Washington State spread into southeastern B.C. during the once-secret Hanford nuclear complex's heyday and a Seattle activist worries it can happen again if a megaquake hits.

"They were able to cover up the fact they were spewing out staggering amounts into our environment, air, water and soil and Canada was certainly impacted by that," said Hanford Challenge executive director Tom Carpenter.

Hanford opened in World War II to convert uranium to plutonium for nuclear bombs, such as the one that killed 73,000 in Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. Production stopped in 1987 but the cleanup could continue through mid-century.

Washington's only active nuclear power plant, however, opened in nearby Richland in 1984. Carpenter said the Columbia Generating Station and Japan's quake-and-tsunami hit Fukushima Daiichi are both boiling water reactors where spent fuel is held above ground.

"In Japan the roof blew out and blew off the building and exposed the fuel pool to the air."

Columbia - 540 kilometres from Vancouver - supplies 6.3 per cent of Washington's power and is supposed to survive a 6.9 magnitude quake. During the year ended Sept. 30, there were 210 local earthquakes. The biggest were 3.0 magnitude events on Feb. 4 and May 8.

Hanford is storing 177 underground tanks containing 200 million litres of nuclear waste. Carpenter claims a third of the tanks have leaked and he fears a megaquake would make it worse.