News Stories

Radioactive Wasps

Ordinary wasps and hornets are bad enough, but it turns out that wasps are building radioactive nests in a nuclear power plant in Hanford, Washington. And regular hornets are dive bombing people's ears, attracted by the perfume behind them.

John Stang writes in the Washington State TriCity Herald about Todd Nelson, who is trying to remove radioactive mud daubers from Bechtel?s abandoned H Reactor complex. Workers tearing down the plutonium-production reactor's contaminated buildings found a radioactive mud dauber's nest in a nook in a wall on the south side of the complex. Since then, many contaminated nests have been discovered in the nooks and crannies of the H Reactor complex. "There's more than dozens," Nelson says. "We haven't been provoking them?There are no reported stings. No reported buzzing or dive-bombing."

At H Reactor, wasps are using mud from the complex's contaminated spent nuclear fuel basin. Workers are scraping the nests off the walls and sending them to central Hanford's low-level radioactive waste burial grounds. Besides discarding the nests, they're trapping the wasps and checking them for radioactivity, but so far, none have been contaminated.

In the past, the company has dealt with radioactive ants, non-radioactive escaped alligators, a radioactive mouse and radioactive fruit flies. They regularly clean up radioactive tumbleweeds.

We've recently written about bugs invading people?s ears. Part of the problem may be chemicals in perfumes that are dabbed behind the ears or even flavorings used in food. Pheromones, which are related to human and animal sex hormones, can trigger attacks on humans by hornets.

More than 70 people in Japan die each year after being stung by insects, especially hornets. Researcher Masato Ono says, "As [pheromones] are sometimes used in food flavorings and as fragrances in cosmetics, it is possible that they might provoke a seemingly unwarranted hornet attack on humans."

But this is nothing compared to the dangers of radioactive wasps. Residents who live near the power plant wonder if Bechtel will be able to find all the radioactive nests within the huge, multi-storied, cavernous, nook-filled H Reactor complex that has been shut down for 38 years. Undiscovered radioactive nests will shelter larvae through the fall and winter. When spring comes, radioactive wasps will emerge and migrate far and wide.

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