Ghosts of Chernobyl, Daughters of Hanford

In 2013, I fulfilled aChernobylchair rather odd bucket-list wish: I went to Chernobyl. Ukraine had been in the grips of record-breaking snow in the days before I arrived. I and my six fellow adventurers slogged through snow that was often nearly thigh deep on my 5’2″ frame.

We carefully tested wooden floors as we moved through buildings, each room containing vignettes of life interrupted. It was in rooms like the one pictured here that I felt the presence of those who’d inhabited these spaces. I wondered about who sat in this chair and looked out that window. What hopes had sprouted here, before all of their lives changed forever?

Chernobyl is ranked in the top five of the earth’s most contaminated places. But did you realize that the most contaminated location in the Western Hemisphere is right in our own backyard? The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in Southeastern Washington, operated from 1943 until 1987. The plutonium produced there was used in the first nuclear bomb, detonated at the Trinity site, as well as in Fat Man, the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Two-thirds of all of the United States’ weaponized plutonium was refined at Hanford, which is now a wasteland filled with the nastiest chemicals and radioactive waste ever invented.

So what does nuclear waste have to do with equity? Glad you asked.

The decisions to build facilities such as those at Chernobyl and Hanford often impact marginalized groups of people, whose homes are destroyed and polluted in the name of progress. Before it became Hanford, this wind-swept region was an important place for native women, who harvested roots and gathered sacred plants here.
Later, tribal members were forced to vacate their riverside villages, while families in the small towns of White Bluffs and Hanford were given 30 days to leave their homes and abandon their farms, all to preserve the mysteries of the Manhattan Project. The Ghosts of Chernobyl are quiet…but the Daughters of Hanford refuse to be silenced.

The Daughters of Hanford is a project to tell the stories of underrepresented women whose lives were changed forever by Hanford. A project of public radio correspondent Anna King, photographer Kai-Huei Yau and artist Doug Gast, Daughters will highlight underrepresented women’s perspectives of the nuclear site in twelve radio pieces and complementary portraits. Daughters includes a radio series, a multi-platform website and a geo-mapping application. The project culminates in an interactive art exhibition at The REACH in Richland, Wash., in July 2015.

You can listen in at DaughtersofHanford.

I hope their courage in speaking out can be an inspiration to all who have felt marginalized and silenced. You can make a bigger impact than you might imagine.

[author: Susan Rochester]

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