Radioactive Bugs Found at Nuke Site

KBliss0568 kbliss0568 at
Sun Oct 25 00:10:05 EDT 1998

 Radioactive Bugs Found at Nuke Site 

By Linda Ashton
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 1998; 4:30 p.m. EDT

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) -- Radioactive ants, flies and gnats have been found at
the Hanford nuclear complex, bringing to mind those Cold War-era B horror
movies in which giant, mutant insects are the awful price paid for mankind's
entry into the Atomic Age. 

Officials at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site insist there is no
danger of Hanford becoming the setting for a '90s version of ``Them!,'' the
1954 movie starring James Arness and James Whitmore in which huge, marauding
ants are spawned by nuclear experiments in the desert. 

Although Hanford is working to eradicate its ``hot'' insects, officials said
the radioactivity the pests carry is slight and no threat to neighboring

``We're not dealing with an insect that would leave and all of a sudden start
to give birth to these malformed, horrible insects,'' said a chuckling Richard
Zack, an entomologist at Washington State University in Pullman. 

The situation came to light in September when red harvester ants found
underground near some old waste pipes were discovered to be radioactive. Then,
earlier this month, workers discovered radioactive flying insects around cans
where the staff's day-to-day nonradioactive garbage is thrown away. 

That led Fluor Daniel Hanford, the company that manages Hanford for the Energy
Department, to check the town dump where Hanford garbage is taken. Workers
found trash that had apparently become radioactive from contact with the bugs,
and sent 210 tons of it back to Hanford for burial. 

Still, a person would have had to stand next to a spot contaminated by
radioactive bugs for an hour to get the level of exposure equal to a dental X-
ray, said Mike Berriochoa, spokesman for Fluor Daniel Hanford. 

And the house-size ants of ``Them!'' are ``physical impossibilities'' and just
the stuff of science fiction, Zack said. 

Zack and Berriochoa said they are not aware of any pattern of genetic mutation
in the insects around Hanford. And if the insects were to develop mutations,
the abnormalities would be along the lines of a short antenna or an extra leg,
Zack said. 

And because the insects' range is short -- for fruit flies, it's a few hundred
yards to a half-mile -- the chances of their leaving the 560-square-mile
complex are slim, he said. 

Hanford said radioactive pests are to be expected at a place that produced 40
years' worth of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons, including the bomb
dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. 

With all manner of burrowing creatures in the desert, including mice, rabbits
and snakes, there's always the potential something will get contaminated,
Berriochoa said. When contaminated mouse or rabbit droppings are found at
Hanford, traps are set for the animal, and it is destroyed. 

Hanford stopped producing plutonium at Hanford in the 1980s, but some areas
remain highly radioactive. Billions of dollars are being spent to clean up the
site along the Columbia River. 

Julie Petersen, 22, who works at Sunburst Video in Richland, does not spend a
lot of time worrying about mutant bugs. 

``I'm sure I get more radioactivity from my microwave,'' said Ms. Petersen,
whose friends outside the area still ask her if she glows. ``It's just
something we deal with every day. It's the way most people live.'' 

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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