The silence is unnerving. Not another car in sight as I drive through the desolate Hanford nuclear area. The road unfolds in an eerie lacework of tarred concrete until finally I see it gleaming in the distance—the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO.)
LIGO is home to Earth’s most sensitive optical instrument, uniquely designed to intercept gravity waves. These elusive cosmic waves—or ripples in space-time—are so miniscule that Einstein thought them impossible to view and measure. And so far, he’s been right. Yet if detected, gravitational waves could transform our fundamental understanding of the universe.
They also, incidentally, play a starring role in the hit … » More …
Of all the troubling images evoked by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, the plume of uranium-tainted groundwater seeping into the Columbia River comes near the top of the list. Millions of gallons of radioactive waste were processed at the site and, starting in the ’40s, government scientists detected it in the area’s groundwater.
One site, called the 300 Area, has a plume of several million gallons affecting a 3,000-foot stretch of the Columbia River shoreline. Monitoring wells and riverbank springs have had uranium levels in excess of drinking-water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Near Vernita Bridge—where the Columbia River flows eastward on the “Hanford Reach,” and the Department of Energy signs forbid all access—and say:
Arid Lands Ecology Reserve All Plants and Animals Protected U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Ask the sagebrush now to tell What the river carried In its waters to the sea. Ask the river or the sun What strange things were here begun, What they all could well Reveal, having witnessed what was done. Here the mighty river’s run On its westward journey to the sea, Reaches toward the rising sun… … » More …
Kathleen Flenniken ’83 describes and reads from her second collection of poetry Plume, published by the University of Washington Press in 2012, in this video produced by her son Alexander Flenniken ’11.
Set off by images of the Atomic City, Flenniken’s hometown of Richland, Washington, she documents her coming of age and eventually her work at Hanford in the heart of the nuclear age.
Recently Flenniken was named Washington’s poet laureate for 2012-14. She teaches poetry and is a co-editor and president of Floating Bridge Press. She lives in Seattle, Washington.
“When President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the go-ahead for the Manhattan Project, he set in motion an extraordinary collaboration amongst scientists and the military to develop an atomic bomb, driven by fears of Hitler’s creating one first. Whether or not the eventual dropping of the bombs on Japan was necessary to end the war in the Pacific will probably never be resolved. But the bomb undoubtedly changed the world, as well as the cultural, historical, and physical landscape of southeastern Washington.”