TIME Bizarre

Someone Stole a Family Cabin From Its Foundation

"We walked up and it was gone"

This really is a home away from home.

A Washington state family visited their vacation cabin in the woods on Tuesday — only to find their beloved getaway gone. In the last two weeks, someone managed to pry the 10-by-20-foot structure from its foundation, leaving behind only the cement blocks, the family said Wednesday.

“We walked up to the gate and it had been cut. Drove up to (the cabin) expecting it to maybe be broken windows, maybe a little vandalism, something stolen from the front of it,” Chris Hempel, the owner, told NBC affiliate KHQ in Spokane. “We walked…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Environment

How the Atomic Age Left Us a Half-Century of Radioactive Waste

Plutonium Plant
Evans / ;Getty Images The American Atomic Energy Commision's plutonium production plant at Hanford, Washington, circa 1955

Dealing with nuclear waste at a plant in Washington State has proved an intractable problem. Why?

In 1951, atomic optimism was booming—even when it came to radioactive waste. In fact, entrepreneurs believed that the waste might pay off in the same way that coal tar and other industrial by-products had proved useful for the plastics and chemical industries. TIME reported that Stanford Research Institutes estimated they could sell crude radioactive waste from the Hanford plutonium plant in eastern Washington State at prices ranging from ten cents to a dollar a curie (a measure of radioactive decay). Every kilogram of plutonium the plant produced spilled out hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive waste. If the entrepreneurs were right, Hanford was a gold mine.

They were wrong. Instead, the former Hanford plutonium plant became the largest nuclear clean-up site in the western hemisphere. It costs taxpayers a billion dollars a year.

On the other hand, maybe they were right—just not the way they intended. Corporate contractors hired to clean up Hanford have made hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and surcharges, and, since little has been accomplished, the tab promises to mount for decades. Since 1991, the US Department of Energy has missed every target for remediation of Hanford’s deadly nuclear waste. Highly radioactive fluids are seeping toward the Columbia River watershed, while in the past two years 54 clean-up workers have fallen ill from mysterious toxic vapors. Last fall, seeking to finally get some action, Washington State sued the DOE to speed up the timeline and make the project safer—but, on Dec. 5, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the request. The express schedule was too expensive, they said, despite the fact that the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is planning to spend a trillion dollars in 30 years to create a new generation of more accurate, deadly weapons. In fact, the DOE spends more money now in real dollars on nuclear weapons than it did at the height of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, the Justice ruling—to scrimp on radioactive waste management while the DOE spends lavishly on bombs—makes for business as usual in the history of Hanford.

It’s never been a matter of knowing the danger. In 1944, Hanford designers understood that the radioactive by-products issuing from plutonium production were deadly. Executives from DuPont, which built the Hanford plant for the Manhattan Project, called plutonium and its by-products “super poisonous” and worried about how to keep workers and surrounding populations safe.

At the same time, DuPont engineers were rushing to make plutonium for the first Trinity test in Nevada in 1945, and they did not pause to invent new solutions to store radioactive waste. Plant managers simply disposed of the high-tech, radioactive waste the way that humans had for millennia. They buried it. Millions of gallons of radioactive effluent went into trenches, ponds, holes drilled in the ground and the Columbia River. The most dangerous waste was conducted into underground single-walled tanks meant to last ten years. Knowing the tanks would corrode, as the high-level waste ate through metal, Hanford designers planned to come up with a permanent solution in the future. They were confident in their abilities. Had they not accomplished the impossible—building from scratch in less than three years a nuclear bomb?

But, as the years passed, no new answer surfaced to safely store nuclear waste. The Atomic Energy Commission, which was in charge of bomb production, left radioactive garbage to its private corporate contractors. For two decades, the AEC had no office to oversee waste management, nor any regulation. AEC officials didn’t know how much radioactive waste there was or where it was located. They also didn’t pay much fiscal attention to the problem. The AEC allocated to General Electric, which took over from DuPont in 1946, $200,000 a year for waste management, small change in nuclear-weapons accounting. In the same decade, the AEC handed over $1.5 million annually to subsidize the local school district in Richland, Wash., where plant workers lived.

Meanwhile, the temporary underground tanks remained long past their expiration date. In the early 1960s, the first tank sprang a leak. Dozens followed suit leaching into the ground a million gallons of high-level waste. From 1968 to 1986, Hanford managers built 28 new, double-walled tanks, designed to last from 20 to 50 years. What was the major design innovation after two decades of experience? An extra tank wall.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 tore the plutonium curtain of secrecy surrounding Hanford. The newly renamed Department of Energy was forced to release thousands of documents describing how plant managers had issued into the western interior millions of curies of radioactive waste as part of the daily operating order. In the early 1990s, TIME recounted stories of people living downwind who had thyroid disease and cancer, caused, they believed, by the plant’s emissions. In 1991, the DOE resolved to clean up the Hanford site.

The agency hired the same military contractors that had managed the site while it was being polluted. Their main task involved building a state-of-the-art waste-treatment plant to turn high-level waste into glass blocks for millennia of safe storage in salt caverns. But by 1999, eight years and several billion dollars later, the DOE had to admit that its contractors had accomplished little. Multiple times, the DOE set new deadlines or hired new contractors, but the goalposts were always moved. In 2015, after decades of effort, the waste treatment plant is still in the planning stages. High-level waste remains in tanks, some of which continue to leak.

What makes dealing with nuclear waste at Hanford so intractable? The Savannah River Plant in Georgia also made plutonium and has successfully built a treatment plant. So too have the Russians and French. Despite the Department of Justice’s ruling, money is not the main problem. The current contractor, Bechtel Corp, has spent billions of dollars, yet has made little progress. Speaking this week, representatives of the Washington State Department of Ecology said that they would argue their case in federal court in February, hoping to get the DOE to commit to their timeline to get the waste treatment plant up and running. Decades after the story began, it continues.

So perhaps it’s a matter of history. Since the ’40s, Hanford contractors had enjoyed a free hand to produce plutonium and pollute with little AEC/DOE oversight. And for six decades reports of radioactive discharges were denied. It is hard to fix a problem one cannot see—and that’s been, by any measure, an expensive lesson.

Kate Brown lives in Washington, DC and is Professor of History at UMBC. She is the author of several award-winning books, including Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford 2013). Brown’s most recent book Dispatches from Dystopia: History of Places Not Yet Forgotten will appear in April 2015 with the University of Chicago Press.

Read a 1986 report on the safety of the American nuclear industry, here in the TIME Vault: Bracing for the Fallout

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TIME christmas

Wisconsin Man has Same ‘Supernatural’ Christmas Tree for 40 Years

The ageless tree is waiting for the man's oldest son to come home for Christmas

A Wisconsin man has had the same Christmas tree for four decades.

Neil Olson put up a Christmas tree for the last time in 1974, when his six sons went to fight in the Vietnam War and he promised not to take the tree down until all the men were back home safe for the holidays, the Marshfield News Herald reports. Olsen hasn’t taken that tree down since.

Olson’s oldest son was injured at war and hasn’t been able to get home to Wausau, WI, from Washington state for Christmas. The tinsel-dripping, ornamented tree, meanwhile, looks just as it did 40 years ago, though its needles are a bit yellowed.

“It’s supernatural, I say,” Olson, 89, told the Wausau Daily Herald. He added that if his sixth son gets home for Christmas one year, he predicts “the needles will drop right off” the waiting tree.

[Marshfield News Herald]

TIME nation

First Recreational Marijuana Legally Sold in Seattle Donated to Museum

Elaine Thompson – AP In this July 8, 2014, file photo, Deb Greene, 65, Cannabis City's first customer, displays her purchase of legal recreational marijuana at the store in Seattle.

A marijuana milestone saved for posterity

The first marijuana sold for recreational purposes in Seattle is being donated to the city’s Museum of History and Industry, the Associated Press reports.

Deb Greene, a 65-year old grandmother, purchased it at the store Cannabis City on July 8, when the state’s first legal, recreational marijuana stores opened. The retiree brought “a chair, sleeping bag, food, water and a 930-page book” so she could camp out overnight and be the first in line, the AP reported at the time.

She purchased two bags of legal weed, one for personal use and another that was signed by Cannabis City owner, James Lathrop, so it could be “saved forever,” Greene told the Seattle Times. “You don’t use history.”

As Greene told the Puget Sound Business Journal, “I wanted to be a part of this, this is part of the history of our city.”

MORE: The Rules About Pot Just Changed in Washington D.C.

MORE: House Votes to Help Pot Businesses Use Banks

TIME Drugs

Colorado Selling Over 10 Tons of Pot Every Month

Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014.
Matthew Staver—Bloomberg/Getty Images Marijuana photographed inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colo., Jan. 9, 2014.

Annual market demand roughly 130 metric tons a year, state study finds

Correction appended, July 10

The estimated annual market demand for marijuana in Colorado is roughly 130 metric tons, according to the first post-legalization study of the market.

The study, released by state regulators, used actual sales data to draw up the figure rather than rely on survey responses as studies have done in the past, and was able to provide some revealing information.

Surveys have estimated that a third of marijuana users consumed the drug less than once a month, according to the Associated Press. But the study found that those users comprise only .3 percent of the total market, meaning the most of the marijuana is consumed by heavy, more regular users.

The study’s estimate for total market demand, which includes both medical and recreational marijuana, surpassed past figures by nearly a third. The analysis found that demand from residents hovers around 121 metric tons and demand from visitors stands at around 9 metric tons.

But in some of the Colorado’s vacation spots, out-of-staters account for as much as 90 percent of the recreational dispensary traffic. According to the study, legal marijuana is, on average, going for $220 per ounce.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly suggested that the study contradicted previous findings about infrequent marijuana users in Colorado.

TIME States

Washington State Braces for Sales of Recreational Pot

Medicinal Marijuana Supplier Caring for Plants
Cavan Images / Adam Weiss

Amid concerns of weed shortages

Recreational pot is poised to go on sale this week in Washington nearly two years after the state voted to legalize the marijuana trade, but uncertainty and concerns of a weed shortage already abound.

Sale of the drug became legal Monday morning and licensed retailers buying their supplies from licensed growers will be able to sell their product by Tuesday.

Washington and Colorado voted to legalize the pot trade in Nov. 2012, becoming the first states to do so. But while Colorado, which had a robust existing medical marijuana market, has overseen a legal recreational market since the start of the year, Washington is only just giving it a shot.

Only about 20 retailers are expected to receive their licenses this week, and many growers are still awaiting their own licenses. The result: a potential shortage, which will lead to hiked prices, long lines, or limits on the size of purchases.

There are still thousands of growers and retailers awaiting a license, and according to Reuters only a small portion of the growers’ marijuana has gone through necessary testing, with many harvests unlikely to be ready in time for this week’s sales.

TIME natural disaster

Washington Mudslide Death Toll Hits 29

Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso
Max Whittaker—Reuters Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso, Wash., April 2, 2014.

Authorities say at least 29 people died in the Snohomish County, Wash. mudslide nearly a week and a half ago, as rescue workers continue picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing

Updated April 2 at 11:20am ET

The number of confirmed deaths in the Washington state mudslide has increased to 29, officials said Wednesday.

Twenty-two of the bodies were identified as of Tuesday, up from 19 the day before. As the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office worked to identify the six other victims, rescue workers continued picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing.

The search has been made slightly easier as receding floodwaters have exposed more ground that can now be examined by the search crews, the Associated Press reports. Treacherous conditions and bad weather have complicated the search for human remains buried in the debris, which is contaminated by chemicals, fuel and human waste.

Both rescue workers and search dogs are being hosed down at decontamination stations after completing their tasks.

“We’ve already had a little bit of dysentery out here,” Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department told CBS News. “People are working in a septic tank of materials. We want them washed and decontaminated.”

The mudslide flattened more than two dozens homes when it hit the outskirts of the small town of Oso on March 22.

TIME natural disaster

14 Dead in Washington State Mudslide, With 176 Still Missing

Search-and-rescue teams are waiting for the ground to stabilize after a weekend mudslide in Washington State that has killed at least 14 people and left another 176 unaccounted for as of Tuesday morning. Gov. Jay Inslee has instituted a state of emergency

Updated: March 24, 2014, 10:05 pm. E.T.

Fourteen people have been confirmed dead in a devastating mudslide that struck a small riverside neighborhood in Washington State on Saturday morning. Authorities said Monday that 176 people were still missing or unaccounted for, a huge increase of prior estimates that 18 people were missing, though that number may include duplicates.

Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington emphasized that not all of the missing were necessarily injured or killed. The larger number is from a combined list of names reported missing in the wake of the mudslide from various sources.

Screams and cries for help could be heard by rescue teams beneath the wreckage on Saturday evening, but the mud was so thick that the searchers had to turn back. On Sunday, no sounds were heard among the sludge-covered debris.

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 chief Travis Hots. Still, Hots said crews were in a “search-and-rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time.”

The operation was discontinued at nightfall because of dangerous conditions. Rescue workers had already sunk down to their armpits into the mud and had to be pulled to safety.

The massive slide, destroying about 30 homes, occurred at about 11 a.m. Saturday.

“In three seconds everything got washed away,” a witness who was driving on a highway when the mudslide happened told the Seattle Times. “Darkness covering the whole roadway and one house right in the middle of the street.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of devastation” after flying over the area on Sunday, and declared a state of emergency. Residents have been advised to evacuate the area, as debris from the slide has dammed up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, threatening severe flooding if the water, rising roughly a foot every half hour, bursts through the blockage.

[The Seattle Times, CBC, ABC]

The article has been updated to include the latest developments on Monday evening.

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