Tag Archives: Plutonium

Fu-Go, or How Geologists Fought off the Japanese Attack on North America, although the Threat Remains

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumy, British Columbia.

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumby, British Columbia. This photograph is courtesy of Infonews.ca, which published a story about the bomb on October 10, 2014.

On November 3, 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army attacked North America, and they did it from three Honshu beachheads. It was on that date that the first of some 9,000 balloons, fitted with incendiary and high explosive bombs on a three-day timer, were lofted into the recently-discovered jet stream. The innovative form of aggression spread dangerous explosives across a huge swath of North American territory, from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Coast to Detroit, Michigan. Fewer than 250 of these balloons have been accounted for, although an estimated 1,ooo balloons may have made it across the Pacific. While most of the 9,000 probably failed to reach American shores, those that made the crossing and went undiscovered might still pose risks to the unsuspecting.

Foresters working near Lumby, British Columbia, made the most recent discovery of unexploded Japanese bombs in October of last year. Hikers and people who work in wild places should be wary of undiscovered explosives from these balloons.

When Japanese balloon bombs, known as Fu-Go to their makers, first began to arrive in America, authorities mistakenly thought that the devices were being launched from submarines surfacing near our coasts or that they had been built in Prisoner-of-War camps along the coast. Continue reading

In the Wind

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards.

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards. It operated until 1987, the last of the plutonium producing reactors.

This image is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Growing up near Othello in the 1960s, we developed a macabre pride over being so near an important target for Soviet missiles. We knew that something vast and threatening was happening just over the hill from our home—it was only eleven miles from our house to the nearest of Hanford’s nuclear plants. But we didn’t live with fear. Like Richland High School, whose football team was called The Bombers, and whose helmets sported a mushroom cloud, we took pride in having the world’s largest plutonium factory in our back yard. Truth to be told, we were even a bit jealous of the fact that most of the workers at Hanford lived in places like the Tri Cities and Sunnyside. On the other hand, rumor on the playground at Lutacaga Elementary School was that, if the Russians took out McChord Airforce Base, Othello’s radar station would be in command of the entire west coast. Continue reading

A Picnic to End the Dustbowl

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

Farmers and ranchers and their families mingled with promoters and dignitaries to hear about the progress being made. From the top of the mountain they gazed north on the desert lands that Grand Coulee Dam would make into a garden.

They gathered on top of Saddle Mountain in the heat of August, 1927, on a patch of sand and basalt at the top of the cliffs that form the western edge of the landmark that gave the mountain its name. Every car and truck that arrived ground the powdery soil in the road into a finer dust that hung in billows over the hillside before drifting slowly away. As they arrived, the cars were directed to a makeshift parking lot, a vacant hillside spotted with small sagebrush. But the passengers were dressed in their finest clothes, as if coming to a wedding. And in a sense, they were.

The State of Washington would look a lot different today if Grand Coulee Dam hadn’t been built…something that probably couldn’t happen today. My purpose here isn’t to debate whether or not it was right to so dramatically alter the environment of the Eastern Washington desert (indeed, because my family has been so closely tied to the enterprise, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it). To get a brief history of the dam, you can find this excellent, pretty well balanced, article on HistoryLink.org.

It’s hard to imagine what the farmers who attended that picnic on Saddle Mountain were feeling. Over the years many of them had watched their neighbors and friends give up or fail on the lands they had invested so many years of labor to develop. Continue reading