- 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
- 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.