Radioactive Tumbleweeds,
Ants, Flies, And Gnats
Spreading Radiation
RICHLAND, Washington (AP) -- First, radioactive ants, flies and gnats were found at the Hanford nuclear complex, which for years churned out plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Now a government report says there has been a dramatic increase in the number of radioactive tumbleweeds found blowing around the place.
The Department of Energy found 20 contaminated tumbleweeds in the first six months of 1998, compared with 11 during all of 1995, an increase likely due to stepped-up efforts to search the area.
With roots that can stretch 15 feet into the soil looking for water, the weeds suck up contaminated groundwater and spread radioactivity when the top of the plant is blown away by the wind.
The plants sprout across the 560-square-mile government reservation, which is one of the nation's most heavily contaminated nuclear sites. When they tumble, so does radioactivity.
The Department of Energy found that Fluor Daniel, the company that manages Hanford for the government, and other contractors spent $1.68 million last year to control vegetation like tumbleweeds, as well as various mice and insects that also spread radioactivity.
Hanford stopped producing plutonium in the 1980s, but some areas remain highly radioactive. Billions of dollars are being spent to clean up the site along the Columbia River.