14 February 2012

Asserting Public Control

While working on one of my assignments for my Law and Society class, I came across an article that reminded me of what is currently going on at Hanford.  The article from New York Times discloses that a federal judge recently blocked Vermont from forcing the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor to shut down when its license expires on March 21, 2012 on the grounds that the state is trying to regulate nuclear safety, which is a right granted solely to the federal government.

When Entergy, an electrical power production company bought the Vermont plane in 2002, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the state agreeing that besides just the federal license extension, the plant would need a state “certificate of public good” in order to continue its operations after its license expires this year.  Since the company bought the plant, the plant has suffered the collapse of a cooling tower and leaks of radioactive water into the soil, turning public opinion strongly against it.  Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a 20-year extension to the plant’s license, Vermont lawmakers had passed a law that gave themselves the power to veto the renewal of the license.  But J. Garvan Murtha of United States District Court in Brattleboro, Vt., proclaimed that federal law trumps the state’s action because “radiological safety” was under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Though it may sound like there may be some challenges in the process of trying to withdraw the Columbia Generating Station’s re-licensing application for HOANW, there is also good news.

In the latter part of the article, the author refers to a California plant, Rancho Seco, in Sacramento, which was successful closed by a referendum vote of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in 1989.  Which is a good example to us in our efforts to stop the license renewal.  How, or why, you ask?

There is one extremely important similarity between  the case of Rancho Seco and the Columbia Generating Station that makes citizen involvement strong:  The nuclear plants are owned by publicly owned utilities.  Energy Northwest (formerly WPPSS) runs the region’s only commercial reactor, located along the Columbia River on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  Energy Northwest is owned and run by Washington’s publicly owned utilities (e.g., Seattle City Light, Snohomish PUD, Clark PUD, Tacoma City Light, etc.).  What does this mean for us Washingtonians?  It means we have the power to assert public control of our region’s power and use the next ten years before the plant’s current license expires to plan to replace the power with clean, safe renewable power and conservation!  In order to ensure that our voices and concerns are heard we need to ensure that a public hearing on the reactor license is held in Seattle.

A public hearing is a crucial stepping stone on our pathway to a cleaner, safer Washington.  Our goal here at Heart of America Northwest to to advance your concerns on health, environment, and the economy of the Northwest particularly as it affects Hanford.  With our grassroots organizing, public outreach, education, and legal advocacy we are dedicated to leading the fight for the safe and timely clean-up of Hanford.  With your support we can bring a public hearing here in Seattle so that we can express the dangers of a renewed license for the Columbia Generating Station to the Energy Northwest Board of Directors.  Don’t be ignored, make your voice heard! 

Vivian Tam
Service Learner at HoANW
Junior at University of Washington
Studying Communication and Sociology

24 December 2011

"Witch Hunt" at NRC to avoid safety improvements after Fukushima affects Reactor in Northwest and our Safety

"Witch hunt" at the NRC in effort to avoid safety improvements after Fukushima affects us here in the Northwest:
Last night, I spent 2 hours watching the CSPAN replay of the US Senate Environment Committee hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) with the 5 Commissioners.
Republicans are gleefully attacking the Obama appointed Chair Greg Jazcko over the other 4 Commissioners' letter to White House that he brought 3 unnamed women to tears and didn't share info.
Barbara Boxer called it right, a witch hunt, aimed at removal of a Chair who wants to implement some semblance of safety reforms after Fukushima. The lack of shared info, it turns out has to do with the other Commissioners not liking final versions of staff safety reports recommending that they implement some safety actions after Fukushima, and that they not eliminate a 30 day review period after appoval of a new reactor design.
2 of the Commissioners are people we (at Heart of America Northwest and others working on USDOE contaminated sites across the US) had direct experience with. One Commissioner was previously in charge of promoting nuclear power at USDOE. In that role, he didn't pass on to the Secretary the info on costs and safety about restart of Hanford's FFTF Reactor, was in denial about how "reprocessing" would create more High-Level Nuclear Waste...; another was the USDOE official who a federal judge said should be held in contempt of court for deliberately failing to carry out a court order to do environmental review of wastes and cleanup plans. That gives us confidence in the NRC, right? ....
Here in the Northwest this affects us directly as the Chair's political promise in testimony is that reactor relicensing will proceed "apace".
This rush to relicense regardless of safety concerns at individual reactors includes the Energy NW reactor at Hanford, which has applied to be relicensed to run until 2043. This explains why NRC refused our petition to extend the comment period in November until after NRC released its highly critical safety report (issued this week) finding violations and that the staff ignored safety procedures at the reactor. The NRC report was done by November 2nd and given to Energy NW that day. The comment period ended on November 16th... but, the report as only released to the public on December 21 - a month and five days after the NRC closed the comment period on the relicensing application environmental impact statement. 
Here are excerpts from the report released on December 21 - you'll find yourself shuddering about the consequences if these actions happened while the reactor was operating instead of during its refueling:
The NRC found that:

“(O)perators chose to proceed with work when it was not approved, was outside the bounds of the procedure, or when they experienced unexpected plant conditions. In these instances, conservative decision making was not evident. In a few instances, operators suspected that something was wrong but didn’t speak up.”
NRC summary of the five events:

During the most recent refueling outage from April to September 2011, the licensee experienced five events. Those events included:

1. On April 11, while filling the reactor vessel to approximately the reactor vessel flange level, approximately 4000 gallons of reactor coolant inventory were lost to the containment sump because two in-series steam line drain valves were left in the open position (see NRC Inspection Report 05000397/2011002).

2. From July 28 to 30, operators inadvertently drained approximately 4300 gallons of water from the reactor vessel through two main steam line drain valves. Operators had failed to ensure that the reactor vessel level indication reference leg remained vented to atmosphere, which resulted in inaccurate reactor vessel level readings. This condition persisted for approximately 40 hours.

3. Licensee Event Report 05000397/2011-002-00: Loss of Shutdown Cooling Due to Logic Card Failures: On August 27, the licensee experienced a loss of residual heat removal event following the spurious trip of a reactor protection system train B circuit card. This licensee event report is closed based on the results from this inspection.

4. On September 10, operators failed to follow site procedures and, for a short period, inadvertently diverted water from the reactor vessel to the suppression pool through the residual heat removal pump minimum flow valve. Reactor vessel level decreased approximately 2 inches.

5. On September 15, operators failed to properly coordinate two control rod drive surveillances. Control rods were moving faster than expected and two control rods, when given a withdrawal command, inserted instead. Operators then manually inserted the control rods and they appeared to scram (insert very rapidly).

25 August 2011

Good Ol’ Boys Club ... USDOE/Bechtel Name Team to Review Safety Culture at Hanford

The Department on Energy (DOE) has begun a review of the safety culture at Hanford vitrification plant. Bechtel, the contractor for the vitrification plant, made recommendations for the seven member team to the DOE; which the DOE approved. The assembled team is made up of insiders from the DOE, NRC, and have connections to commercial nuclear sites. Interestingly enough, there were no women selected to the panel.  The “independent review” is tasked with examining the safety culture of the Hanford vitrification plant. However, it is hard to claim that an independent review can take place when the company under review handpicked the review team. In a statement Bechtel proclaims; “We welcome the opportunity for a full and open review of the project by these experts, and we will accept and implement any actions they identify. [1]” I would also be welcoming to the members of a panel of my own creation.
We applaud the creation of a panel to review the safety culture – if it operates in the open with public input and transparency, and if it were truly independent. 
However what has been announced leaves much room for doubt and concern.
If the panel operates openly, and allows for truly anonymous safety concerns to be presented by workers and engineers without fear of retaliation, the panel may be an opportunity for dialogue about safety to come to light. It  may even be seen as an admittance of fault by Bechtel.
The idea that an independent review is possible with a panel that resembles the good ol’ boys is far-fetched. The ability of the panel to conduct a truly independent review was taken away when the DOE failed to contact concerned public interest groups to receive input on who should be on the panel, or how it should be organized. The panel is a fairly homogeneous group which does not allow for a diversified set of critiques and opinions on the safety culture at Hanford.  Yet again, the concerns of the public and possibly those who work at Hanford have been muted by the insiders who care more about costs than safety.
Examining the biographies of the seven hand picked people, five of the seven have business relationships with USDOE, including consulting and contracts dependent upon USDOE. One of the other two defended nuclear power utilities in legal proceedings brought in response to whistleblower and safety concerns.
Heart of America Northwest is concerned that USDOE and Bechtel seek to avoid the open government legal requirements by having the private contractor who is building the plant, Bechtel, pick the panel and receive its recommendations – despite the fact that USDOE is paying the bill for the panel and holds ultimate responsibility for design safety. If the panel reported to USDOE, it would be subject to open government laws, including open public meetings and public comment.
The safety culture of Hanford has repeatedly shown need for improvement. Heart of America Northwest successfully led efforts to have Congress reject DOE and Bechtel's request to spend an additional quarter billion dollars in each of the coming years to accelerate construction of the vitrification plant BEFORE doing the testing of whether the chemical processes will work and whether they pose risks of explosions and nuclear criticalities (self sustaining nuclear reactions). DOE admits that the testing beyond the lab is necessary to ensure that the process and design will work and be safe. Yet, it wanted to make the same mistake it has repeatedly made - spending hundreds of millions pressing ahead on construction before design was done or tested to see if it would be workable or safe. While asking to spend a quarter billion more on construction of the vitrification plant in each of the coming years, without knowing if the work would all have to be redone due to safety, USDOE has been refusing to dig up Plutonium in the soil threatening health and water citing cost.

“Wasted Workers?”

Hanford was recently in the news for slightly different reasons than one would think... A small bag of pot was found in an office on site after the end of a work safety planning meeting.  “The bag was found Aug. 8 in a conference room used by Washington Closure subcontractor S.M. Stoller at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility.” Immediate drug tests were ordered. Six employees quit rather than submit to drug testing. This incident speaks towards the larger picture of safety culture at Hanford.

[1] Hanford Waste Treatment Plant welcomes review by leading nuclear safety experts-August 22, 2011, Bechtel National, Inc.

Independent review of vitrtification plant safety culture under way,  By Annette Cary-Tri-City Herald August-23, 2011

25 April 2011

Hanford Managers Report on State of Hanford Cleanup Meetings - but skip the top issues, such as public opposing use of Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump

Hanford's top Managers wrote the following guest editorial following up to 2011 State of the Hanford Cleanup Public Meetings in March.... at bottom, we respond wondering how they can ignore the public's top concerns voiced at the meetings: 1) opposing USDOE's plans to add even more wastes to Hanford and using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump... and, 2) how they failed to understand public concern in light of the Japanese reactor meltdowns about use of Hanford facilities to make dangerous Plutonium fuel for the commercial reactor at Hanford...

Tri-City Herald Sunday, Apr. 24, 2011

Community vital to Hanford cleanup

By Matt McCormick and Stacy Charboneau, Special to the Herald

During our State of the Hanford Site Cleanup meetings in March, we heard many views, concerns and suggestions, with emphasis on requesting more funding for cleanup, accelerating the pace of our work and protecting the Columbia River.

Thanks to those who attended the meetings. Continued community involvement will produce quality cleanup and helps sustain funding for this critical work.

Not surprisingly, one issue that came up at the meetings was unrelated to our environmental cleanup mission at Hanford.

Because of recent events in Japan, more people are talking about nuclear activities than they were a month ago. Interest in nuclear activities creates an opportunity for education, public discussion and debate.

That is why we would like to take this opportunity to provide context for what the Department of Energy is doing here at Hanford.

It's clear from our meetings that many people around the Northwest don't know that the commercial nuclear reactor at Hanford is owned and operated by Energy Northwest, not the Department of Energy.

Environmental consequences of Hanford's past operations are well known to most Mid-Columbia residents, but it's easy to forget the magnitude of the problem.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, Hanford produced more than half of the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. During that time, millions of cubic feet of solid waste was placed in trenches and other burial sites.

More than 50 million gallons of radioactive waste was stored in large underground tanks. About 450 billion gallons of less-contaminated liquids were discharged to the soil, creating an area of groundwater contamination in excess of 100 square miles beneath the site.

In addition, approximately 2,300 tons of leftover spent nuclear fuel was stored in water-filled pools near the Columbia River, which runs through the site.

Over the years, dozens of the large underground tanks had leaked contaminated liquids into the soil.

Today, we're engaged in cleanup of buildings, soil, debris, groundwater and liquid wastes that once were contaminated with radioactive material.

While several facilities on the site still store or contain hazardous materials, the material is monitored and configured to protect the public and the environment.

With continued proper storage and handling, the residual wastes do not pose a threat to site workers, visitors or the public.

Since cleanup began in the late 1980s, DOE and its contractors have addressed some of the most urgent environmental and public health risks. For example, 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel has been removed from storage pools near the river and placed in dry storage at the center of the site.

Twenty tons of leftover plutonium material has been stabilized and shipped out of the state. Eighty million gallons of groundwater are processed each month to remove contaminants, with more than 5 billion gallons treated to date.

Removable liquids have been retrieved from large, single-shell underground storage tanks, and a plant for treating the large volume of sludge and solid material remaining in the tanks is more than half built. The nine reactors on site that once irradiated uranium to produce plutonium have been emptied of fuel, and five have been demolished down to the shield walls surrounding the reactor cores.

Much has been done and there is more work ahead. Cleanup of the Hanford site is complex and is expected to take decades, primarily because of the amount and extent of contamination that resulted from producing plutonium -- not power -- for the United States.

The work is some of the most challenging and heavily regulated in the United States, and it hasn't always gone as planned. But workers, regulators, community members and others share a common goal to ensure safety is our No. 1 priority and that cleanup is completed safely and efficiently. We would like to build on that common ground.

We invite you stay or get involved, whether it's attending a Hanford public meeting, commenting on cleanup decisions or taking a tour of the site. Hanford is an unprecedented environmental cleanup effort. And it's in your backyard.

For more information, we invite you to visit our website at www.hanford.gov or view the first of several video chapters on Hanford at www.youtube.com/ hanfordsite.

* Matt McCormick is manager of the Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office. Stacy Charboneau is acting manager for the Office of River Protection.

RESPONSE by Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest:

The number one topic brought up by the public at the 2011 Hanford Cleanup State of the Site meetings was opposition to USDOE’s plans to add even more waste to Hanford by using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump – for which USDOE has TWO separate pending proposals. This is NOT addressed at all in the follow-up guest editorial from Hanford’s two top managers.

Nor do they address the reason why the public is so concerned, in light of the Japanese reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, about the relationship between USDOE, Hanford and the commercial reactor located at Hanford.

A stated goal of the State of the Site meetings is to hold Hanford and regulator managers accountable to public concerns in an annual public forum. Heart of America Northwest worked hard to have the public come to the hearings. We urged that USDOE and regulator managers record comments and offer a written response - so that they will be accountable.

This recap of “what we heard” from Hanford’s Managers shows the need for recording comments and responding, so the official report and record is not a biased partial accounting. Person after person at the Seattle and Portland meetings told USDOE that its credibility is undermined by USDOE clinging to keep in place its 2004 decision to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump.

The recap is a reflection of numerous other concerns, but not the top two issues on the public’s mind at the hearings. The Op-Ed does reflect the concerns about reduced cleanup funding – without responding to numerous urgings that USDOE should restore funding priority to the retrieval and treatment of Plutonium and mixed radioactive hazardous wastes. Hanford’ Managers report on the great progress made in some areas while acknowledging decades of work lie ahead in regard to those unlined ditches and tank wastes.

However, Heart of America Northwest members and so many other people at the meetings repeatedly objected to USDOE collaborating with Energy Northwest to bring weapons usable Plutonium back to Hanford to be fabricated to make experimental, highly dangerous Plutonium fuel for the Energy NW (formerly WPPSS 2) reactor in a contaminated Hanford USDOE building in the 300 Area along the Columbia River. USDOE’s senior managers claimed they knew nothing about this scheme to have Energy Northwest be the first US commercial nuclear utility to use the same dangerous Plutonium fuel as in Reactor 3 in Fukushima – with higher temperatures and greater offsite radioactive releases than uranium fuels. Yet, the proposal is to use a USDOE Hanford facility to fabricate the Plutonium fuel and to do the dirty work assaying spent fuel – creating more wastes. The public strongly objects to shipping Plutonium back to Hanford and using Hanford facilities to make more waste in the guise of dangerous Plutonium fuel for the commercial reactor. They owe us answers! And, we will not let them ignore our concerns.

20 March 2011

We Are All in This Time Capsule Together…The Japan Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima

By Dvija Michael Bertish

Of the many images the world has seen in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, one stands out as a powerful symbol of the vulnerability of humans on this planet. A 60 year-old man was swept nine miles out to sea, floating on the rooftop of what had once been his house. His village of 10,000 people had been obliterated. He watched as his wife disappeared in the tidal surge. He floated for two days on the ocean, surrounded by debris, unnoticed until he was finally spotted and rescued by a passing military ship. The man thought the day of his rescue would have been the day of his death. It is a humbling and sobering image.

As a child I was very interested in learning about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the advent of nuclear weaponry during World War II, and warnings written by Albert Einstein about these quantum devices. Einstein also warned about the potential extinction of honey bees and the subsequent collapse of the global food supply within four years' time. Heavy thoughts for a ten-year-old, but it stuck with me. Currently, the United Nations has issued a warning that Colony Collapse Disorder of honey bees has become a pandemic that could impact the global food supply. The cause of the disorder has not been formally identified. One theory was that the bees were oversensitized by cellphone transmissions, another theory pointed to the possibility of a bacteriological pathogen. I wonder if the decline of honey bees could be attributed to advancing background radiation that continues to escalate in the global environment.

Radioactive smoke arising from Fukushima Nuclear Plant
At the time of this writing, the Fukushima plant has suffered various explosions and radiological releases. Some reports say that Chernobyl was far worse, others say the radiation levels at the Fukushima plant exceed Chernobyl without the confirmation of a total nuclear meltdown. Individual radiation exposure due to natural sources amounts to about 2.4 millisievert (mSv) per year. Those evacuated from around Chernobyl experienced 350 mSv per hour. Fukushima levels exceeded 400 mSv per hour, and spiked at the reactor site to 10,000 mSv per hour. However, there are reports that the disaster has corrupted the monitoring equipment. It appears Japan officials plan to dump tons of sand and cement on a leaking reactor in an attempt to seal off the radiation.

For an easy to understand guide to what the radiation doses being found in Japan mean in terms of health risk, and potential for fallout in the US are, see the Heart of America Northwest homepage http://www.hoanw.org/

It is estimated that 400 million human beings were exposed to Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout. According to agencies with the United Nations, Chernobyl caused 4,000 related deaths and 4,000 thyroid cancers (mostly in children, with a very high cure rate) [1] , and some 200,000 people have developed illnesses caused by radiological exposure. Other assessments are much higher: “The International Agency for Research on Cancer, another UN agency, predicts 16,000 deaths from Chernobyl; an assessment by the Russian academy of sciences says there have been 60,000 deaths so far in Russia and an estimated 140,000 in Ukraine and Belarus…” [2] 
The Fukushima crisis has not yet reached full meltdown status, but the cooling systems have failed, the reactor cores are exposed and are venting radioactive smoke, and millions of people in Tokyo wonder if the air will shift, causing the radiation to drift toward the city instead of out to sea. Millions of people are at risk. A measurable radiation plume reached California, and there has been no mention of the cumulative impacts to the environment, though officials are quick to say there is no impact to human health. I guess its better to say something like that to avoid public hysteria and panic.

Also at the time of this writing, people are stampeding to vitamin shops to purchase potassium iodide pills in hopes of fending off thyroid cancer from radiation exposure, but no other organs are protected with this therapy. Doctors are warning the public not to take this supplement, but fear drives consumers to seek out the pills. News reports indicate cargo and luggage at US airports that originated in Japan show measurable levels of radiation, though US officals claim the levels are not enough to be dangerous. Japanese health officals discovered radiation in milk and spinach near Fukushima, and in tap water in Tokyo and five central prefectures.

Senators are asking if US nuclear plants are at risk from major earthquakes, yet one plant in California is built atop a major faultline on the coast. A representative of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant was interviewed on national news, wearing a powder blue shirt and sport jacket, saying repeatedly that his power plant could withstand a 7-point quake, and that the plant was protected by a 20-foot tsunami wall. Really? Doesn’t he know that the Japan quake was a 9-pointer, and the tidal surge swallowed whole towns at greater heights? Does he know that the US coast is comprised of the very same type of subduction zones that triggered the Japanese quake? Has he not seen the devastation from recent quakes in New Zealand and Chile, all within the Pacific Ring of Fire?

The Japan crisis led to Germany’s immediate shuttering of its pre-1989 nuclear power plants, costing billions of dollars, and Sweden is to follow this example. And yet, in this climate of global crisis, our own domestic nuclear industry is suing the US federal government in an attempt to stop nuclear waste long-term storage management fees, and an east Tennessee plant recently applied to import and treat 1,000 tons of radioactive waste to be imported from German nuclear facilites. The Chistian Science Monitor reports, “Nuclear plants in the United States last year experienced at least 14 "near misses," serious failures in which safety was jeopardized, at least in part, due to lapses in oversight and enforcement by US nuclear safety regulators,” the report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group. The Wall Street Journal reports that “dozens of nuclear reactors operate in earthquake-prone regions around the world, including at least 14 in high-hazard areas.” Go figure.

The collateral damage in this crisis is extensive. The city of Tokyo is at a standstill. American medics have been evacuated from Japan due to rising radiation levels. The Japanese stock market has tumbled, causing a cascade of economic downturns in countries around the world that were already weakened by the great recession. US automakers and electronic fabricators could become unable to produce their products since many components are made in Japan. General Electric, the company that made the Fukushima nuclear reactor, as well as the reactor at Hanford, is suffering from a devaluation of its stock due to the Japan crisis.

Reactor number 3 at the Fukushima plant was operated with experimental Plutonium “MOX” fuel -- reactor fuel mixed with weapons grade plutonium that increases the severity and danger of radioactive releases. Within the past few weeks, Heart of America Northwest discovered that Energy Northwest, the consortium of publicly owned utilities (formerly called WPPSS), made a secret deal to be the first commercial nuclear reactor in the US to use Plutonium fuel at the Hanford reactor without public consent or knowledge.

The Plutonium fuel at Fukushima Reactor 3 is being acknowledged by the US government and nuclear experts as posing the highest risks from partial meltdown and fire amongst the reactors. It melts more readily, and releases more radiation than uranium fuel rods.

Seattle Times front page story (March 19, 2011) on Heart of America Northwest filing suit this week over Energy Northwest’s effort to keep its plan to use Plutonium fuel a secret. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014539881_plutonium19m.html

Americans are wondering if a nuclear meltdown in Japan would result in mass exposure to radiation through the atmosphere. Simultaneously, Japanese workers are experiencing extensive radiation exposure at the reactor site, and are sure to develop cancer from it. Washington State declares that there is no danger from radiation exposure, and EPA has deployed additional Radnet monitors to collect air samples in order to determine radiation levels in the atmosphere.

One question comes to mind in light of these developments – was it all worth it to pursue nuclear energy?

Of the 104 nuclear reactors in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ranks the Hanford reactor 39th at risk of catastrophic failure caused by earthquake. The San Onofre reactors in California are ranked 46th, which indicates that Hanford is more at risk.

Another thought comes to mind. A very small number of people (nuclear regulators in the US) are making policy that can and may very well endanger the population in our own country. And this small number of regulators doesn’t seem to be phased at all by fears raised by the public that radioactive waste is dangerous, that nuclear reactors are prime targets for disaster (natural or terrorist types), and that the health and well being of all people is at risk because of the nuclear industry.

The US is the leader in nuclear energy use, and has the most reactors. And just today, 25 years after Chernobyl, more than 30 years after Three Mile Island, the federal government is just now wondering if US nuclear reactors are sturdy enough to withstand major earthquakes and tsunamis. Stress tests for US facilities are just now being ordered. There is something dramatically wrong with this picture.

At the time of this writing, Japan’s future is uncertain. Our collective futures are uncertain. Will there be a full meltdown? Will there be a nuclear explosion? Will parts of Japan become uninhabitable? However this crisis plays out, one thing is for certain – its not just Japan’s problem. Everyone in the world will be impacted by this crisis.

1983, Sculpture, Cast Cement, Steel & Shattered Glass

My childhood fascination with nuclear issues led to an art project during my college years. I created a sculpted rock base, a sort of cliff. Out of this cliff arose a steel aperture that formed a large question mark shape. I gathered many panes of tempered glass and flung them into metal garbage cans so they would shatter. I reached into this garbage can bare-handed to retrieve hundreds of shards of glass. I glued the glass in spiral forms around the aperture with aquarium glue, coating the question mark with ultra sharp spikes of glass. I never cut myself. The sculpture was placed on display in a student art show, set upon a large platform to avoid direct contact with the glass shards. It took 6 people to move the sculpture, and they all wore protective gloves because they feared being cut by the glass. The sculpture was wheeled about on a metal trolley, and the glass made strange noises as it was heaved into place. People were very nervous around this sculpture and kept their distance. They were afraid of it.

The sculpture was entitled “There Were Once White Sands Near Alamagordo in 1945.” The first nuclear exposion test took place in New Mexico in 1945. The desert sand beneath the test site was fused into a giant crator of glass shards. The sands of New Mexico constantly move -- vast white dunes that undulate in the winds like glistening snakes. I often wonderd if the nuclear radiation from the test site moved around with the white sands near Alamagordo. The first Nuclear bombs were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 to end World War II. Was it the end, or just the beginning of a larger war? What is the legacy of the nuclear age? I guess time will tell.

To discuss your concerns about how this relates to Hanford, and plans to use Hanford as a national waste dump, please come to public meetings at 7:00pm: March 29th in Seattle at Seattle Center's Northwest Rooms, March 31st in Portland at the Red Lion Hotel at Jantzen Beach, and a May 19th hearing in Portland (6:30pm Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel) on US Department of Energy's latest plan to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump for extreme radioactive wastes from reactors and weapons.

[1] UN agencies and the government of the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine with UN agencies: International Atomic Energy Agency and WHO, joint report; 2005 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html
[2] The Guardian, UK, January 10, 2010:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/10/chernobyl-nuclear-deaths-cancers-dispute Meanwhile, the Belarus national academy of sciences estimates 93,000 deaths so far and 270,000 cancers, and the Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection calculates 500,000 deaths so far. The mismatches in figures arise because there have been no comprehensive, co-ordinated studies of the health consequences of the accident. This is in contrast to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where official research showed that the main rise in most types of cancer and non-cancer diseases only became apparent years after the atomic bombs fell. With Chernobyl there have been difficulties in gathering reliable data from areas left in administrative chaos after the accident. Hundreds of thousands of people were moved away from the affected areas, and the break-up of the Soviet Union led to records being lost.”

Some progress seen in Japan's nuclear crisis, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mar 20, 2011

Lessons From Chernobyl for Japan, NY Times, Mar 19, 2011

Radioactive contamination of food risks, Khaleej Times, Mar 20, 2011
Officials: Pressure rises again in Japan reactor, Chigaco Sun Times, Mar 20, 2011

Radiation Plume Reaches U.S., but Is Said to Pose No Risk, NY Times, Mar 18, 2011

Dozens of Reactors in Quake Zones, Wall St Journal, Mar 19, 2011

Nuclear power report: 14 'near misses' at US plants due to 'lax oversight', Christian Science Monitor, Mar 18, 2011

Fear's Price Tag; The High Price of Merkel's Nuclear About-Face, Spiegel International, Mar 16, 2011

Charting the Human Cost of Different Types of Energy, Pro Public Blog, Mar 18, 2011

Radiation Fears and Distrust Push Thousands From Homes, NY Times, Mar 17, 2011

U.S. nuclear officials suspect Japanese plant has a dire breach, Los Angeles Times, Mar 18, 2011

Fukushima Crisis Worsens as U.S. Warns of a Large Radiation Release, NY Times, Mar 17, 2011

Japan Races to Restart Reactors’ Cooling System, NY Times, Mar 18, 2011

Obama urges review of U.S. nuclear plants, reassures Americans on radiation from Japan, Los Angeles Times, Mar 17, 2011

Regulators aware of years of understated seismic risks to nuclear plants, Center for Public Integrity, Mar 18, 2011

Report faults U.S. nuclear oversight, Asbury Park Press, Mar 18, 2011
Three ways Japan's nuclear crisis could end, USA Today, Mar 17, 2011

Radioactive particles arriving in the Bay Area, but pose no risk, say scientists and health officials, Mercury News, Mar 17, 2011

Trace radiation at airports determined OK, but highlights concerns about spread from Japan, Chicago Tribune, Mar 17, 2011http://timesfreepress.com/news/2011/mar/18/radioactive-waste-may-be-bound-state/
Radioactive waste may be bound for state (Tennessee), Times Free Press, Mar 18, 2011

Senators Question Safety of Nuclear Reactors in California and Vermont, Environmental News Service, Mar 16, 2011

WRAPUP 4-U.S. shows growing alarm over Japan nuclear crisis, Reuters, Mar 17, 2011

With Quest to Cool Fuel Rods Stumbling, U.S. Sees ‘Weeks’ of Struggle,Mar 17, 2011

Reactors on Fault Lines Getting Fresh Scrutiny, Wall Street Journal, Mar 17, 2011

Plutonium fuel could be used at Hanford power plant, Seattle Times, Mar 18, 2011

San Onofre nuclear plant can withstand up to 7.0 quake, is protected by a 25-foot tsunami wall, Edison, LA Times, Mar 15, 2011

Nuclear power and earthquake zones overlap in the U.S, Mother Nature News, Mar 15, 2011

Nuclear Industry Sues to Lift Reactor Fuel Management Fee, Environmental News Service, Mar 10, 2011

Stocks hurt as GE, utilities hit by nuclear doubts, Wall Street Journal, Mar 14, 2011

Japan's nuclear crisis: regulators warned of reactor risks, UK Guardian, Mar 14, 2011

Decline of honey bees now a global phenomenon, says United Nations, The Independent, Mar 10, 2011

21 February 2011

Risky Nuclear Experiments on a Global Collision Course -- It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Radioactive World!

By Dvija Michael Bertish

New reactor being built next to old style reactor in Georgia,  
Pictured here at the Vogtle plant near Savannah, Aug. 2010

It’s like watching Planet of the Apes from the 1970’s, where Charleton Heston’s bloodied hand weakly presses a crystal button that controls a nuclear bomb on a planet gone genetically wrong. All around us there are signs that long-term thinking, protecting the future generations 100-200 years from now, is not being thoroughly considered when placed in the context of nuclear energy production. All around us there are serious warning signs that nature, the world as we know it, is being tragically impacted by this lack of conscious thought. It’s a disturbing paradigm of ignorance and calculated misrepresentation of the truth, weakly justified by our need for expanded energy resources, jobs, and profit.

As a conscious human being, I often wonder how anyone with a heart and a mind can, without trepidation, gamble and dabble with nuclear radiation at the cost of countless lives. And yet, the proliferation of dangerous problems linked exclusively to the nuclear industry is quickly gathering momentum. It’s a legacy that mars our time, and reaches tens of thousands of years into the future.

Gerry Pollet, Executive Director of Heart of American Northwest, sent me information from Friends of the Earth and an article from the Tri-City Herald that was so disturbing, I had to think about it for a few days. The implications brought out in these items are huge, and I’ve tried to weave them into context in this blog. Here are my thoughts from developments in the nuclear industry over the past month.

The consortium of Pacific Northwest public electric utilities, Energy Northwest – formerly known as WPPSS, with the apparent blessing of the US Department of Energy, plans to haul fuel mixed with weapons-grade plutonium back to Hanford so it can be fed into a nuclear reactor in an experiment. No mention of what might be spewed into the air during this process, or if there is an accident. This plan was discovered on the tail of another plan to reformulate the experimental Hanford Vitrification Plant so that it would allow “controlled explosions” of radioactive gas while trying to turn high grade radioactive sludge into glass for long term storage.

Once again, the Pacific Northwest is being targeted as a guinea pig. Clearly, the public would be more than concerned about trucking in radioactive waste from around the country [after we worked so hard to have it removed from Hanford as part of cleanup efforts] so it can be burned up in a nuclear reactor. Moreover, this reactor sits near a plant that experts warn could explode with radioactive gas. Radioactive fuel combined with nearby explosions can’t be a good thing. And radioactive groundwater under the site continues to leak into the Columbia River to poison the drinking water source for downstream cities. And all of this is experienced so that energy can be developed to be sold out of state or even internationally for corporate profit. No, this would not make sense to the general public, so no wonder this controversial plan was kept secret and had to be exposed by watchdogs. Energy Northwest is a publc utilitiy consortium, not a private company- which makes the coverup even more egregious.

Internal emails reviewed by Freinds of the Earth and Heart of America Northwest via a Public Records Act request reveal that Energy Northwest officials feared that their plans to use Plutonium fuel at the Columbia Generating Station (formerly called the WPPSS 2 reactor) at Hanford would become public knowledge. These are “public officials” at public agencies hiding safety and financial risks and how they plan to spend your tax dollars. The nuclear waste mess has been building since World War II, and there isn’t a clear plan in sight to deal with the toxic aftermath of nuclear weapons, or the ongoing operations of existing nuclear power plants that have been in operation since the 1980’s. The waste stream is growing ever larger without safe and reliable long term storage. The nuclear salesmen say they will “reprocess’ the waste – which creates more liquid High-Level Nuclear Waste that will go to into tanks until who knows when? With an afterlife of thousands of years, it’s hard to imagine how nuclear regulators are thinking the solution is to put radioactive waste in tanks or drums to last 20-40 years. What happens after that? One associate of mine theorized that new space shuttles will haul our radioactive waste to be buried on the dark side of the moon. Out of sight, out of mind? The scheme to use Plutonium fuel is revealed in the documents as politically motivated to prove that melting down fuel from reactors and extracting the Plutonium for reuse is acceptable. But, the officials strive to keep the plan secret and never mention what happens to the liquid High-Level Nuclear wastes from this “reprocessing.”

The Key Lake facility produces U3O8 uranium, which is then shipped to
Refineries for the manufacture of fissile fuel rods used in nuclear reactors

Doesn’t civilization have to consider the long-term implications of nuclear waste before launching into a revival of nuclear energy? After the BP Oil spill, the once shouted slogan “Drill Baby, Drill!” isn’t as loud. The Fracking debate to pull natural gas out of the ground by pressurized pumping of toxic chemicals into groundwater is generating hefty opposition, as well as exploding natural gas lines that incinerate neighborhoods with failing infrastructure. Americans are definitely giving a huge thumbs down to mountaintop removal coal mining and coal-fired power plants, but there are attempts to ship American coal to be burnt up in China so we can all breathe the mercury spewed by China that blows back across the ocean. Dams are killing off rivers and streams. The masses are wondering if electric cars cure dependence on foreign oil, but where is the electricity going to come from to charge the batteries, and where are the rare earth minerals going to come from to make these technological wonders work when the mining of such elements causes severe contamination to the environment? Even China has decided mining these rare minerals is too dangerous and has curtailed exports, sending US automakers into a frenzy for new sources. Afghanistan is ripe for the picking.

Yes, we have to think of something to produce our needed energy. Wind, solar, and tidal wave energy are in the upswing of the energy revolution, touted as sustainable and green resources. But in the midst of this chaos, we are being fed stories that nuclear energy is clean, green, and ready to safely fulfill our every need and desire. Really? Remember the commercials from just 2 years ago where an actor wearing a costume of a giant piece of coal was gathering hordes of followers, walking hand in hand from coast to coast, demonstrating the friendly support for “clean coal,” a controversial theme that many cry out to be an oxymoron. Those commercials are long gone with public outcry. The term “nuclear energy” may also prove to be an absurdist thought, but that hasn’t put a damper on a resurgence of planned nuclear facilities. Where is the public outcry over radiation and nuclear pollution?

Four new nuclear reactors are currently proposed in the US, in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. One facility started construction 30 years ago and is being resurrected after a 20 year hiatus. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing 20 additional applications for nuclear power plants. There are 60 nuclear reactors being built in foreign countries. Some call it a nuclear “Renaissance”, with a new uranium rod fabrication plant now operating in New Mexico with three others planned in the US. Currently, 50% of US nuclear fuel is created from decommissioned Russian warheads, and that source will only last until 2013.

Thus, new sources of enriched uranium will be on a fast track for development. Scientific American reports: “With 436 reactors worldwide consuming 65,000 metric tons (one metric ton equals 1.1 U.S. tons) of enriched uranium per year, demand for this nuclear reactor fuel outstrips available supply, which has caused uranium prices to jump from a low of $10 per pound a few years ago to more than $130 per pound in 2007 and still more than $50 per pound today.” The UK Guardian reports that uranium prices have reached $63.88 per pound in 2011 due to fast increases in nuclear consumption in China and Korea.

The landscape is being scoured for new sources of uranium to satisfy the fast growing need for reactor fuel. Since 2003, foreign companies have filed 2,215 claims to prospect for unranium on the edge of the Grand Canyon, where mining has been banned since 1908. The Guardian reports: “Denison Mines, based in Canada, already operates one mine in the [Grand Canyon area] with plans to reopen three further mines that were approved in the 1980s without being subject to the environmental review. Denison recently told investors that it will increase production by at least 10 million pounds a year by 2020, some of which will be destined for a new nuclear plant in the United Arab Emirates.” Mining operations could cause uranium to leach into springs and aquifers that then feed into the Colorado river, the drinking water source for 18 million people in Los Angeles, and this contamination could remain for decades.

The Associated Press reported on Feb 15, 2011 that The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will allow a French company, Areva Inc. to pursue a uranium enrichment plant in Eastern Idaho without “significant risks to the environment,” and that a new license will be granted to the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility because it won’t harm the environment, public or worker health or safety.

Dozens of shuttered uranium mines in Colorado may reopen, and new mines and mills may be built, planners promising thousands of new jobs in a downed economy. These mines would produce and the mill could process 500 tons of uranium daily, second only to the other existing uranium mill in SE Utah. Meanwhile, a Canadian power company has been permitted to use the Great Lakes to ship 1600 tons of radioactive equipment and waste from a decommissioned nuclear plant for recycling in Sweden. The Great Lakes are the drinking water source for 40 million people, and officials throughout the region fear what could happen in case of a nuclear accident during shipment.

The upsurge in nuclear energy production will create an enormous radioactive waste stream without plans for how to deal safely with the waste. Furthermore, waste streams from nuclear production over the past 50 years continue to be a major pollution source that has yet to be remedied. The former Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has received 40.8 million cubic feet of low level radioactive waste in many thousands of shipments from all over the country since 1999. The Energy Department estimates 1.6 trillion gallons of groundwater is contaminated with radiation at the site, but nuclear waste continues to be buried there… and the Energy Department continues to plan to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump for those weapons and reactor program wastes which it can’t send to Nevada (Heart of America Northwest is suing to overturn that US Department of Energy decision).

Semi truck leaving the Nevada storage site after delivery of radioactive waste.

Since 2000, there have been 5 trucking accidents and dozens of other mishaps like breaches or spills associated with the Nevada storage. Shipments travel through Las Vegas and residential neighborhoods in route. The site houses enough nuclear waste to more than fill the Empire State Building. Government officials claim the waste poses no threat to public health, except in cases of extreme exposure, but low level nuclear waste can cause death or cancer. Sometimes radiocative waste is turned back at the Nevada site, and the shipper has to truck it back to where it came from. Accepted waste is buried in stacked containers, then capped with dirt and vegetation, and the public is generally unaware of these risks and operations. Keep in mind that a recent study in Scotland shows that pregnant women exposed to x-rays or CT scans can increase the chances of childhood cancers. If controlled doses of radiation in a medical facility can cause this harm, what could happen with thousands of truckloads of radioactive waste moving through residential neighborhoods full of children?

The US Energy Department (under the nuclear program) has captured thousands of wild animals since 2009 to test them for radiation poisoning caused by nuclear facilities, including weaponry plants. Test animals include alligators, lizards, ants, rabbits, rodents, insects, turtles and deer. Research estimates cleanup costs of nuclear hazards to exceed $300 billion, and the wildlife is monitored to prevent contaminated animals from reaching human populations. The study cites contaminated rabbits and ants were discovered at the Hanford facility.

Deformity caused by radiation exposure from Chernobyl explosion

Twenty five years after the Chernobyl explosion, studies find the radiation continues to adversely impact wildlife, including visible tumors and decreased brain sizes in birds, yet only half of the money has been raised to date to build a sarcophagus to seal the blown out reactor, and the site is not secure. At least 200 tons of melted nuclear fuel rods remain on site. Studies show that animal diversity and survival of the young continue to decline, birth defects are common, and progress on confinement of the Chernobyl reactor has slowed without funds from the international community.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont have sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over a federal policy that allows nuclear waste to be stored at a nuclear power plant for 60 years after it has been decommissioned. The three states challenge this policy because it allows long term storage of nuclear waste without environmental review. Most nuclear plants were developed without sufficient infrastructure for safe long term waste storage. With the millions of gallons of nuclear waste leaking into the ground from failed storage tanks at Hanford, one only wonders how the proliferation of nuclear reactor leaks all around the country will affect our water, our land, and our health.

We are witnessing a hard push at the federal level to advance nuclear energy. Our energy resources and dwindling and something must be done. However, no one seems to know how to deal with the toxic waste stream that could, with a serious accident or spill, cause the evacuations of whole counties or regions and make an area uninhabitable for thousands of years. Shouldn’t there be an exit strategy before we go running full boar down this dangerous path? Can’t we all take a moment to think big picture here, and wonder where we are going to put the radioactive waste that is piling up with the advance of nuclear reactors? Doesn’t it mean anything to our federal officials when no one wants this stuff buried in their state? Its not rocket science to understand there is a collision course about to happen with nuclear energy, and that Chernobyl could recur at any time anywhere on the planet.

I for one don’t think the US Department of Energy intends to really clean up Hanford. They now see it as a cash cow to create some new plutonium fuel hybrid that can be incinerated as a new form of energy. Hanford is no longer a disaster site or mitigation program. It has been transformed into a nuclear factory without complete thought.

What you can do: Heart of America Northwest urges you to write / email your local city electric or Public Utility District (PUD) officials to demand that they put an end to Energy Northwest’s plans to use Plutonium Fuel at Hanford. Our publicly owned utilities make up Energy Northwest – make them listen.

Seattle residents, write Mayor McGinn:

Snohomish PUD customers: email the PUD commissioners at:

Clark County PUD: mailbox@clarkpud.com


Friends of the Earth Press Release, Secret Plan Exposed to Use Surplus Weapons Plutonium in Washington State Nuclear Reactor, Feb 3, 2011

Energy Northwest considers mixed plutonium fuel, Tri City Herald, Feb 4, 2011

Heart of America Northwest Blog “The Hanford Nuclear Reservation Becomes an American Pop-Icon Amusement Park?”, Jan 23, 2011

Is a US Nuclear Revival Finally Underway, Scientific American, Feb 16, 2011

Demand for uranium threatens Grand Canyon biodiversity, UK Guardian, Feb 17, 2011

Uranium Plan Pits Prospect of Jobs Against Health Concerns, kjct Channel 8, Feb 6, 2011

Bruce Power get approval to ship 16 radioactive generators through Great Lakes, Globe and Mail Canadian Press, Feb 4, 2011

Millions of tons of low-level material are buried at the Nevada National Security Site — and the state can do little about it , Las Vegas Sun, Feb 13, 2011

Chernobyl birds are small brained, BBC, Feb 5, 2011

Chernobyl nuclear plant shelter faces cash woes, BBC, Feb 1, 2011

X-rays and CT scans on babies pose cancer risk, study shows, The Scotsman, Feb 11, 2011

3 States Challenge Federal Policy on Storing Nuclear Waste, NY Times, Feb 15, 2011

23 January 2011

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation becomes an American Pop-Icon Amusement Park?

                                       The abandoned city of Pripyat, Russia, near Chernobyl
By Dvija Michael Bertish

It’s already happening elsewhere in the world, something that makes a lot of environmentally conscious folks scratch their heads in confusion – Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, has become a tourist attraction. For $100-$185, people can book private tours or participate in group tours of the Chernobyl disaster site under the guise of ecological curiosity. School groups are welcome!

Twenty-three years after the disaster, the area is uninhabitable, surface water is highly radioactive, and the surrounding forests are still red with radiation sickness. The devastating wildfires in Russia last summer choked Moscow with thick bellowing smoke, and fears were raised that the fire would spread radioactive particulates from the Chernobyl site. Somehow, all of this attracts tourists who want to see the devastation first hand. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl killed tens of thousands, wiped out the City of Pripyat where Chernobyl workers lived, and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Even the local dairy cows produce radioactive milk.

Just before the Chernobyl disaster, the city of Pripyat built a brand new amusement park that now stands desolate amidst the graveyard of broken glass and buildings being overtaken by deformed trees. Tour guides bring visitors to the amusement park, where small patches of grass make Geiger counters go crazy and the tourists are whisked away because the area is suddenly declared to be unclean and unsafe for human occupation by mere tour guides.

At the end of the Chernobyl tour, each visitor had to be scanned for radiation, standing between two pieces of metal with hands placed on the sides of a sensor machine. Remember, this area was once a thriving city, with a nuclear power plant nearby.

This real-life situation at Chernobyl exemplifies what could happen at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and the nearby city of Richland, Washington.

How? If the vitrification plant for High-Level Nuclear Waste has an explosion, or if the High-Level Waste tanks have a major release.

Unthinkable? No. Our federal Energy Department (USDOE) is now designing that plant to accommodate “small” explosions, rather than do the engineering and safety testing to ensure explosions do not occur. The Seattle Times’ front page article (Jan 23, 2011) provides details of how USDOE is proceeding despite concerns raised by numerous outside experts and whistleblowers. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014001657_hanford23m.html

Imagine Disneyland with its brightly painted facades, candy wrappers, flowering baskets, and the never ending score of ‘It’s a Small World’ emitted from loudspeakers. It’s a fantasy land, with costumed attendants busily sweeping up any semblance of refuse from pristine sidewalks, and lines of smitten children taking turns to grab a hug from Mickey Mouse. Disneyland is an American ideal of adventurous fun. No offense to Walt, but it appears his fantasy has been usurped and warped by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Not to add salt to a wound, but the consumer advocacy group Center for Environmental Health tested Disney-themed bags sold at Safeway grocery stores, and found some bags had lead levels as much as 17 times above the federal limits for children's products [Tampa Tribune, Jan 12, 2011]. So yes, even the trusted Disney brand can poison children.

At various public meetings, DOE officials have offered that Hanford will become a national park, open to picnicking and tent camping directly over the footprint of nuclear reactor cores. Of course, DOE contends that the area is clean and has been made safe for the future public landmark on the pristine shores of the Columbia River, despite a vast radioactive plume that is already leaking into the River, where fish in the Hanford Reach are reversing sexes and may become unable to reproduce. DOE officials explain that decommissioned facilities should be made available for tours and museums, the surrounding lands will be made available for industrial redevelopment and maybe agriculture – never mind the 43 miles of unlined trenches leaching Hanford’s discarded toxic trash into the soil and groundwater. And the famous half-baked vitrification plant (that is supposed to magically transform millions of gallons of leaking nuclear sludge from ruptured storage tanks into storable glass logs) is not only years behind schedule and triple the budget at more than $12 billion and rising, but is also physically unstable and may be prone to explosions of radioactive gas.

What a lovely and charming premise for Richland property owners and residents. DOE may as well propose a giant fairy castle to be built at the entrance to Hanford, with fireworks shows going off nightly to the cheering hoards, and hungry kids munching on pink cotton candy. Yes America, the federal government has plans to giftwrap Hanford and hand it back to us as an amusement park where the deer and the antelope play.

In December 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported that a rabbit on the 586 square mile Hanford Site was dumping radioactive poop after having consumed radioactive water that leached from some unidentified nuclear waste heap -- not to mention radioactive mice, tumbleweeds, pocket gophers, pigeons, desert termites, harvester ants, toads, swallows, snakes, badgers, fruit flies, and mud-dauber wasps. Wall Street Journal, Dec. 23, 2010 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704694004576019280235026892.html

Contractors found the answer was to shoot the rabbit (as if there was only one rabbit) with a pellet gun and call it good. Maybe they will stuff the corpse, give it a bow-tie and a carrot in its pocket, and put a neon sign over it that reads “The Real Bugs Bunny,” no offense Warner Brothers.

Back to the Hanford Vitrification Plant

At countless public meetings, citizens have repeatedly raised doubts as to whether the vitrification plant will really work. Construction began years before the design was ever completed, and fledgling equipment and processing hasn’t even been tested. Meanwhile, the federal government allows the leaking storage tanks to continue leaking without a backup plan in case the vitrification plant fails, and the radicactive waste has entered the soil and groundwater, which flows to the River. Federal officials have stated publicly that it would be impossible to remove all of the toxic waste from the soil and groundwater, that a cleanup project of this magnitude has never been attempted, and the snail’s pace cleanup is undertaken to protect worker safety and burdensome financial constraints.

With the local flora and fauna already spreading radioactive nuetrons at Hanford, how long would it be before Richland’s sewage facilities introduce volumes of radioactive waste into the environment caused by exposure to Hanford? After all, the city of Richland’s drinking water source is the Columbia River, downstream from the Hanford facility, and radioactive isotopes are measurable in shoreline seeps entering the River at levels well beyond drinking water standards. DOE’s Environmental Impact Analysis projects widespread radioactive contamination throughout the geographic region for thousands of years, and yet the leaking tanks, one of the primary sources of contamination at the site, still sit there. For how long? USDOE convinced Washington State to agree to let it delay emptying the leaky Single Shell Tanks by 22 years – until the year 2040. Until emptied, the contamination under the tanks can’t be cleaned up… but, of course, USDOE does not plan to clean that up. It will be up to us as active citizens to force them to empty the tanks faster, cleanup the leaks and the wastes in those 43 miles of unlined ditches.

On January 22, 2011, the Seattle Times published a duet of articles regarding the subject of the vitrification plant at Hanford:

Big cleanup questions still loom at Hanford http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014001657_hanford23m.html

Will giant mixers keep nuclear waste stable? http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014001657_hanford23m.html

The Seattle Times reports: “But parts of the [vitrification] plant still face risks of bursting into flames, exploding or triggering uncontrolled nuclear-chain reactions, according to project documents, interviews and formal critiques by scientists at other federal agencies…The government's own tests show that equipment may fail or pipes may clog in areas of the plant so hot with nuclear waste that no human or machine could ever get in and make repairs…Fast tracking this project has led to so many late design changes that DOE officials recently claimed the plant was too complex. So they began simplifying the design by scaling back safety measures…For instance, because waste can generate dangerous gases, builders first tried designing and aligning piping systems in ways that prevented fires and mini-explosions. But now, pipes are being designed so that explosions are expected and allowed; plant operators will just have to keep them manageable.”

Yes folks, our world-class Hanford vitrification plant is now being designed to allow explosions of uncontrolled radioactive gas. If not mistaken, this is the same kind of thing that led to the Chernobyl explosion, so the comparison is not far off, and Richland Washington may soon be the American version of Pripyat. Wonder what the Pacific Northwest’s forests will look like in radioactive shades of red?

To make matters worse, an official who spoke up about the potential for explosive disaster at Hanford was fired and forced to file a whistle-blower lawsuit against DOE. Scientists have declared that DOE has grossly underestimated how far a radiation accident could spread at Hanford, but DOE still insists that the public is safe in their hands.

The Seattle Times article notes that official statements include the opinion that the only option is to keep building the vitrification plant on "a leap of faith" that the plant will work. But taking a leap of faith about nuclear safety and radioactive explosions at a government facility is like clapping your hands until Tinkerbell comes back to life. It’s a fool’s errand, and Captain Hook is soon to be swallowed by the Crocodile with the ticking clock in its gullet.

DOE expects us all to have complete and total faith that this untested, unbuilt, undersigned, years late, over budget vitrifcation plant will eventually work so perfectly and never falter or break down, because if it does no human or machine will ever be able to fix it due to the extremely high levels of radioactivity of the waste being processed. REALLY! This plant is the salvation of the western hemisphere’s worst nuclear waste problem? REALLY! If we fall for this, the real world has turned into Disneyland. And if we question DOE’s ethics, we are simply demoted as critics and ushered into the crackpot round file, our concerns ignored.

Suggested Action Steps:

Instead of relying upon blind faith, Heart of America Northwest encourages the following action steps to deal with problems outlined herein. Please contact your Governor, Senators and Representatives with these points:

* Don't delay emptying the leaky High-Level Nucelar Waste Single Shell Tanks by 22 years. Instead, we need to build some new storage tanks, because we can't wait until 2040 to empty tanks or start cleaning up the leaks and deliberate releases under the tanks. Just over a year ago, hundreds of people attended hearings objecting to Washington State’s acceptance of decades of delays in emptying the tanks. Washington State needs to reverse its approval of the delays and begin construction of new holding tanks immediately.

* Stop trying to build the plant without testing the safety and chemical engineering, and reverse the decision that "small" radioactive explosions are acceptable. Congress should bar USDOE from installing the equipment until the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board certifies that the safety plans will work without accepting the possibility of "small" explosions.

* Divert funding away from the vitrification plant to build new storage tanks. This will provide time to properly test the chemical and safety engineering of the vitrification plant to see if it will actually work. Why spend billions on something that isn’t the best known science at this point?

* Demand that USDOE stop trying to plan to dump more waste at Hanford when it won't and can't cleanup the existing contamination. (Yes, while delaying emptying of the Single Shell High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks until 2040, and proposing NOT to cleanup the leaks - USDOE still insists that it will use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump after 2020!).

Support Heart of American Northwest’s federal lawsuit to overturn USDOE's decision to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump by donating on line at our website www.hoanw.org where you will find more resources for contacting officials and to volunteer.