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Proceedings Paper

A nuclear-free land for Kennewick Man
Author(s): John Asmus
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Paper Abstract

In 1964 a human skeleton was discovered in the sediments of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington (the extreme northwest portion of the United States). Subsequently, these bones were analyzed in several scientific laboratories and dated at more than 6000 years BP. Now known as "Kennewick Man", the remains are associated with the "Clovis Period" and, indeed, a Clovis spear point was discovered imbedded in the bone of the pelvis. Equally significant were DNA results indicating the individual was of Caucasian racial origin. Consequently, this sensational archaeological discovery stimulated widespread debates concerning the populating of the Western Hemisphere: the migration routes, the eras of the waves of migration, and the peoples involved. In spite of the enormous historical and cultural significance of the Kennewick find, contemporary Native American Indian Tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakima, Wannapum, Colville) prevailed in the courts and were awarded the bones for a "dignified" and "sacred" reburial on the Columbia River bank at the discovery location. Whereas this reburial may have been culturally sensitive, it was both dangerous and imprudent. The internment site is only a short distance downriver from one of the most contaminated nuclear repositories in the world. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has twelve shutdown atomic reactors that were constructed almost seventy years ago and built for the production of plutonium. The facility also encompasses five chemical-processing complexes for the extraction and refining of plutonium. During the past few decades many of the reactors, as well as their single-wall waste storage tanks and ponds, have deteriorated and have been leaking radioactive and toxic-chemical waste into the local aquifer. This contaminated ground water has been seeping ever closer to the banks of the Columbia River and the resting place of Kennewick Man and other associated (yet to be found) artifacts. Without remediative steps the toxic flow will continue past Kennewick to threaten cities such as Portland with a Chernobyl-like tragedy. Consequently, a remediation program was initiated to drain the leaking tanks and ponds so that the toxic wastes could be buried elsewhere and/or transferred to more secure double-shell reservoirs. Unfortunately, hazardous substances adhere to pores and corrosion on the vessel walls after draining. This poses problems when disposing of refuse materials and hardware from the site. It has been experimentally determined that this hazardous surface contamination may be ejected by means of radiation ablation. It was concluded that this is most effectively accomplished with underwater flashlamp irradiation. In this manner the dislodged surface contamination is freed to float in the water and is then captured and concentrated by the filters of the fluid circulation systems. The final phase of the project was assistance in designing a Stonehenge-like monument to celebrate the cleanup of the Hanford Reservation and the removal of the radioactive threat to the final resting place of Kennewick Man ("The Ancient One").

Paper Details

Date Published: 6 June 2011
PDF: 10 pages
Proc. SPIE 8084, O3A: Optics for Arts, Architecture, and Archaeology III, 808402 (6 June 2011); doi: 10.1117/12.883011
Show Author Affiliations
John Asmus, Univ. of California, San Diego (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 8084:
O3A: Optics for Arts, Architecture, and Archaeology III
Luca Pezzati; Renzo Salimbeni, Editor(s)

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