A radioactive rabbit from Hanford caught the health department's attention Thursday when it was trapped near the nuclear reservation boundary. It was close enough to potentially come in contact with the public through droppings or interaction with other animals. After a hunt, no contaminated droppings were found in publicly accessible areas.
But wait. Back up a minute. A radioactive rabbit?
Apparently several rabbits have been trapped since last week, and one was found to be highly contaminated with radioactive cesium.
It's rare for officials to find radioactive wildlife at Hanford these days. But it used to be commonplace. The U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford clean-up contractor Washington Closure has a theory that this particular rabbit may have been drinking water that pooled during demolition work at the 327 Building, which was used during the Cold War to test highly radioactive materials for nuclear weapons production.
As part of a massive effort to clean-up the shuttered Hanford Site, demolition of the 327 Building began about a month ago, and it was sprayed to suppress dust. Washington Closure has put up a fence, removed vegetation, and added fox scent around the building to keep other animals away.
This is just another example of the complexity of cleaning up the Hanford legacy. The Tri-City Herald reports contaminated wildlife used to be common at the site, and required extra effort to control:
"Liquid waste with radioactive salts was discharged into the ground near central Hanford during the Cold War. Rabbits and other animals were attracted to the salts and spread radioactive droppings across as much as 13.7 square miles of sage-covered land before the waste sites were sealed to keep out animals in 1969.
Federal economic stimulus money has been used to survey for the radioactive hot spots that remain four decades later.
In a more recent case, so many radioactive wasp nests were found spread across six acres by H Reactor in northern Hanford that up to a foot of soil was dug up to remove the nests.
The nests were built by mud dauber wasps in 2003. Water was sprayed to control dust during demolition of a basin attached to the reactor, and the mud created was collected by the wasps to build nests under straw that had been spread nearby to protect newly planted sagebrush seedlings.
There have been a couple of cases in the past two decades of contaminated animals in areas where they potentially could come in contact with the public.
In 1996, a contaminated mouse apparently crawled into a box of food collected by an employee food drive in central Hanford. It was trapped and tested in an abandoned Hanford building previously used by the Tri-Cities Food Bank.
Two years later, gnats and flies were suspected of eating a sugary coating used to fix some radioactive contamination. They then spread the contamination to waste left by workers in offices, such as banana peels and apple cores.
That required 35 tons of trash that could contain the office waste to be dug up from the Richland landfill and returned to Hanford.