30 October 2009

HOANW mention in Tri-City Herald article on TPA Settlement hearing

Hanford waste import moratorium questioned
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

RICHLAND -- Concerns were raised about whether the state can make the federal government stick to its moratorium on importing certain radioactive wastes to the Hanford nuclear reservation at a public hearing Thursday night in Richland.

About 40 people attended the hearing on a proposed settlement agreement reached by the state of Washington and the Department of Energy to resolve a lawsuit brought by the state against DOE almost a year ago. The state sued after it became clear DOE could not meet legal deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement to empty leak-prone underground tanks of radioactive waste and treat the waste.

The proposed settlement agreement would extend deadlines to dates DOE and the state say are realistic. And in one concession for doing that, the state won a commitment from DOE not to import several types of waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is fully operational to treat the waste. That's scheduled for 2022.

While new environmental cleanup deadlines could be enforced either by a federal court order under a consent decree or through the Tri-Party Agreement, neither would cover the moratorium on importing waste to Hanford.

The Department of Justice has given its word in a letter to the state that wastes DOE already had decided to send to Hanford would not be sent at least while the moratorium is in effect. That includes low-level radioactive waste, some of it mixed with hazardous chemicals, that was to be buried in Hanford landfills. It also includes transuranic waste, typically waste contaminated with plutonium, and transuranic waste mixed with hazardous chemicals that were to be stored at Hanford.

In addition, DOE also agreed last week to expand the moratorium to include greater-than-class-C low level waste, which is the most radioactive of the four classes of low level waste. DOE had been considering Hanford among other sites for disposal of the waste.

"I'm confident the current administration will live by the moratorium," said Mary Sue Wilson, Washington state senior assistant attorney general. High-level officials in the Obama administration have backed it, she said.

If a future administration wanted to break the moratorium, a new environmental impact statement, which is a legally required environmental study, would have to be done, she said. The study would have to find technical justification for sending the waste to Hanford for the moratorium to be broken, she said.

The Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement just released included what could be considered technical justification for not sending the waste to Hanford.

"If they do go in another direction, the environmental analysis had better support it," Wilson said. If it didn't the state again could challenge DOE on it, she said.

Gerald Pollet, Heart of America Northwest executive director, disagreed, saying he believed that the moratorium was not enforceable.

Importing waste would have unacceptable impacts to the Hanford environment, said Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge executive director. Hanford has enough problems and complexities to deal with from waste generated there, he said. Hanford produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

"We think Hanford has done its share," he said.

Other issues raised at the meeting included the pace of retrieving waste from Hanford's 149 leak-prone single shell tanks.

The proposed settlement agreement would require all single-shell tanks to be emptied by 2040, an extension of 22 years from the current deadline. DOE has struggled to find ways to empty the tanks efficiently. The proposed settlement agreement also includes several interim deadlines, such as requiring the 16 tanks in the C Tank Farm to be emptied by 2014.

More needs to be done to accelerate the proposed new schedule, including testing more types of technology, said Al Boldt of Kennewick.

DOE would be required under the proposal to empty tanks at a pace of 1.5 tanks per year until 2022, which is about the speed that the state said earlier was far too slow, Pollet said.

The pace of emptying tanks was an issue when the state released an earlier proposed agreement before the lawsuit was filed. To address concerns a requirement has been added to the settlement agreement that would allow deadlines for waste retrieval and treatment to be renegotiated periodically if technology should improve and DOE could do the work faster.

The proposed agreement would extend the start of operations of the vitrification plant from 2011 to a "hot start" with radioactive waste in 2019.

The dates for retrieval and treatment of the tank waste are later than the Hanford Communities had hoped, said Ed Revell, chairman of the Hanford Communities board. But the board is encouraged by DOE commitments to examine new technologies, he said.

It also likes new legal deadlines for speeding up cleanup of ground water, which DOE agreed to amidst discussions on new tank waste deadlines.

Public comments on the proposed settlement agreement are being accepted until Dec. 11. Comments can be e-mailed to TPACH@rl.gov or mailed to Lori Gamache, DOE Office of River Protection, P.O. Box 450, MSIN H6-60, Richland, WA 99352.

29 October 2009

"Working at Hanford put workers' health at risk"

An article in the Tri-City Herald today describes opportunities for more Hanford workers to receive federal compensation for illnesses developed as a result of working at the Hanford site. Here are the major shocking facts, directly from the article:
  • "As many as 25,000 former Hanford building trades workers may have developed illnesses covered by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program"
  • "Ample evidence that working at Hanford put workers' health at risk"

  • Diseases & health problems listed in the article include: asbestosis, blood cancer, lung disease & lung cancer, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, work-related hearing loss

28 October 2009

USDOE finally releases Draft Tank Closure & Waste Management EIS

Following a faux pas where USDOE accidentally mailed out copies of the Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement on Friday, USDOE announced its official release on Monday, October 26th. The draft EIS will provide the basis of recommendations ("preferred alternatives" for the Department of Energy's decisions regarding the following topics:
  • entombing Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility (a shutdown 400-megawatt research reactor)
  • Deferring the importation of off-site waste to Hanford at least until the Waste Treatment Plant is operational - consistent with the Settlement Agreement with WA State that is currently undergoing public comment
  • Retreiving waste from single shell tanks (SST) consistent with the TPA
  • Disposing of Hanford's Low Level Waste & Mixed Low Level Waste onsite

The Vitrification plants are not planned to be large enough to treat all the low-activity waste in a reasonable time, yet no recommendation for treating the rest of the low-activity waste has been brought up. The study also recommends removing 99 percent of the waste from tanks, finding that it would best protect ground water, and have the empty tanks filled with grout to immobilize remaining radiological and other hazards.

Further discussion and alterations to the draft concerning treatment of the remaining tank waste will continue until March 19th, when the public comment period closes. We expect USDOE to hold public hearings on the Draft EIS in early 2010.

The entire draft Tank Closure & Waste Management EIS can be read here.

Major Victory: Moratorium on off-site waste at Hanford now includes "GTCC"!

Major victory by Heart of America Northwest as USDOE announced at last night's hearing that the "moratorium" on sending off-site waste to Hanford will now include "Greater Than Class C" (GTCC) wastes - the most radioactive "low level waste" that exists!!!  (GTCC waste is as radioactive as High-Level spent fuel) At Monday's hearing in Hood River, USDOE and WA were still defending their private agreement to allow GTCC waste to be buried at Hanford, and the public comments reflected outrage over this. 

USDOE announced it would include GTCC waste in its promised moratorium on shipping waste to Hanford during the Portland meeting last night.  USDOE clearly did not want to hear all of the comments objecting all over again, and USDOE wanted to head off additional news coverage which we were encouraging!

USDOE has a formal proposal underway under which Hanford would be used to bury extremely radioactive wastes, GTCC, with as much as 75% of all the radioactivity as is in Hanford's High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks. So, while we fight to get USDOE to empty those tanks, if GTCC wastes are buried at Hanford, USDOE would add to Hanford landfills (which will leak) nearly as much radioactivity as we are fighting to have USDOE empty from the tanks.  

The private agreement between WA State and USDOE to allow disposal of extremely radioactive wastes in landfills at Hanford (GTCC) was exposed by our research, which was relied on Sunday's article in the Oregonian.  In early October, Gerry Pollet found a presentation by a top ranking Energy Department official clearly indicating that use of Hanford to dispose of GTCC wastes was not part of the publicly announced moratorium on waste import agreed to between WA and USDOE as part of WA State's settlement of litigation. Statements issued by the States of OR and WA and USDOE in August appeared to be for an unenforceable moratorium on waste import to Hanford until the vitrification plant is operating, to be adopted voluntarily by USDOE covering all wastes.

On October 6th, at a USDOE-State workshop held to review the proposed settlement and delays to cleanup, Gerry asked the USDOE and WA State attorneys if the moratorium included GTCC wastes. The State and USDOE responded that they had privately agreed to exclude those wastes from the moratorium. This was a major breach of trust, as the public documents failed to include any mention that GTCC wastes were not part of the publicly touted promise (totally unenforceable) by USDOE not to import more waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is "operational" (slated for 2022).

We worked with Scott Learn of The Oregonian to break this story in the media, which was done with a front page Metro article on Sunday heading into the public hearings on the proposed settlement and TPA changes in Hood River on Monday and Portland on Tuesday. At the Hood River hearing, every single public comment included an urge that the state insist that there be an ENFORCEABLE ban on USDOE dumping more waste at Hanford while existing wastes are out of compliance and not cleaned up, and chastising USDOE and WA State for privately agreeing to have an exception to the announced unenforceable moratorium on import for GTCC highly radioactive waste.

The pressure and embarrassment on USDOE's part was apparently too great - they started the Portland hearing with an unclear saying that GTCC waste shouldn't be discussed by the public at the hearing. Only part way into the hearing, as many people objected to the lack of an enforceable ban on USDOE adding more waste to Hanford and the private deal excluding GTCC waste from even USDOE's voluntary unenforceable promise, did USDOE finally make clear that it had decided to expand the voluntary moratorium to include the most radioactive wastes which it had hoped to send to Hanford in the coming years.

This is a major victory for our organizing and research efforts. However, our work is not done. Remember, this is still not an enforceable moratorium on adding waste to Hanford. It is only a promise to include in the upcoming EIS a preferred alternative with no import of waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is operational. Many people last night praised the reversal by USDOE but urged WA State to not sign any agreement that does not make this commitment enforceable in the TPA or Consent Decree. USDOE has not been able to answer the basic question of why USDOE is not willing to make its promise an enforceable part of the TPA or consent decree if USDOE intends to honor a moratorium on waste import to Hanford.

26 October 2009

"Hot" nuclear waste could still be shipped to Hanford under proposed settlement

Heart of America's Executive Director, Gerry Pollet, is quoted in Sunday's Oregonian article on the implications of the TPA Settlement & Consent Decree on off-site waste at Hanford! The bottom line is that the settlement does not address Hanford receiveing a certain type of highly radioactive waste called "Greater Than Class C". Pollet said, "the hottest waste that could be sent to Hanford is excluded" from the moratorium. "It's not a little oversight."

As part of the settlement, the partial moratorium on other types of off-site waste was supposed to be extended through 2019, when the Waste Treatment Plant is to be "hot-started." However, this extension was promised to be included as a preferred alternative in the draft Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, a copy of which we received near close of business on Friday afternoon. However, the preferred alternative in new draft environmental impact statement calls for burying radioactive and radioactive hazardous chemical wastes at Hanford from other USDOE nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor sites!

It is of utmost importance that the public make a strong showing at the upcoming hearings on this settlement, as the agencies will be accepting comments on the off-site waste issue. See our factsheet for more information, and plan on attending a hearing listed below. We hope to see you there!

  • Hood River, OR
    TONIGHT! 6pm pre-meeting workshop, hearing at 7pm
    Best Western - 1108 Marina Way
  • Portland, OR
    Tuesday, 10/27, 6pm pre-meeting workshop, hearing at 7pm
    Double Tree Hotel near Lloyd Center
  • Tri-Cities, WA
    Thursday, 10/29, 6pm open house, hearing at 7pm
    Richland Hampton Inn - 486 Bradley Blvd
  • Spokane, WA
    Monday, 11/9, 6pm pre-meeting workshop, hearing at 7pm
    Double Tree Hotel (City Center)
  • Seattle, WA
    Thursday, 11/12, 6pm pre-meeting workshop, hearing at 7pm
    Quality Inn (near Seattle Center)

23 October 2009

TPA Settlement hearings in Oregon next week

Oregonians, please come out to the TPA Settlement hearings in Hood River and Portland on Monday and Tuesday. Heart of America NW will be giving pre-meeting workshops starting at 6pm, and the hearings start at 7pm. Check out our factsheet for all the information you need on commenting!
  • Hood River, OR
    Monday, October 26th
    Best Western -Gorge Ballroom
    1108 E Marina Way
  • Portland, OR
    Tuesday, October 27th
    Double Tree Hotel (near Lloyd Center)
    1000 NE Multnomah St
    free parking pass!
Consider also signing our petition to Governors Gregoire & Kulongoski to object to the lack of enforceability on banning off-site waste in the settlement!

Object to No Enforcability in the Hanford Settlement - Sign this petition!!!

Hello Heart of America Northwest Supporters!
As many of you know, Hanford is the most contaminated site in the western hemisphere, with 53 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste sitting in tanks that have already leaked one million gallons, contaminating the soil and 120 square miles of groundwater. Even without additional wastes imported to the site, as proposed in the upcoming Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) this year, a conservative estimate is that the contaminated groundwater will reach the Columbia River in 25-50 years. The effects of contamination at Hanford are already evident, and the additional impacts to human and environmental health not only from the contaminated groundwater reaching the River, but also from adding waste to the site, would be catastrophic.
We need your signature!

Please sign this petition (http://www.petitiononline.com/HOANW/petition.html) addressed to the Governors of Washington and Oregon to stop use of Hanford as a national waste dump to make existing documents more enforceable by including language to clean-up the existing waste before adding more!
Let’s protect the health of the Columbia River, the last major spawning grounds for Chinook salmon, and the health of humans and the environment for future generations!
Click to sign on to the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/HOANW/petition.html

We appreciate your on-going support!

22 October 2009

Rep. Doc Hastings looks for answers on nuclear waste disposal

Washington Representative Doc Hastings (R) put the pressure on Obama to come up with a Yucca Mt. alternative in a letter on Tuesday. Since Obama cut funding for Yucca Mt. earlier this year, there has been no serious public discussion of alternatives for national radioactive waste repository. Hastings asked Obama whether Hanford would be studied as a possibility, how much the studies will cost, and when the committee members will be selected.

Annette Cary, of the Tri-City Herald, reports, "Hanford officials have been planning to send the nuclear reservation's high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain. That includes millions of gallons of wastes stored in underground tanks.

"Up to 53 million gallons of the tank wastes will be separated into high-level and low-activity radioactive waste at the $12.3 billion vitrification plant under construction at Hanford, where it then will be turned into a stable glass form for disposal.

"The glassified high-level waste will have to be stored at Hanford until the nation has a place for its disposal, and Hanford watchdog groups and some Tri-City leaders are concerned about Hanford becoming a de facto long-term repository." Read the full article here.

21 October 2009

Toxic Legacy of the Cold War

Fernald Preserve in Ohio is a former uranium foundry that produced crucial parts for the nation's nuclear weapons program, and is now being funded as an environmental challenge for clean up. It has been deemed "clean" from a legal agreement, but the truth is nobody will ever be able to work or live on the land again due to the extreme toxic levels of radiation.

Two decades and billions of dollars later, there is still no hope or realistic plans to completely remove all of the waste. However, many people seem perfectly fine with that idea. Lisa Crawford, who previously lived in the area her entire life, has said "Are we totally cleaned up? No. Could we have gotten a better cleanup? No. But we are comfortable with what we have."
A chemist in the DOE cleanup program also discussed that in some cases it is technically impossible to remove every last bit of waste from underground tanks. The full article can be read here.

Monitoring the site and treating groundwater will still take place in efforts to gradually decrease the amount of radioactivity on Fernald Preserve. This drastic example puts Hanford into perspective for the future; will administrations just decide that complete clean-up is impossible? Will the costs keep rising so that the program can no longer be funded at all? Will people in the Hanford region accept the idea that their land will never be sustainable again?

19 October 2009

Radioactive Rabbit Poop Video

On the radioactive salts: "Jackrabbits routinely burrowed into those sites. They found the salt, liked it, and licked it. Later, they pooped it, leaving slightly radioactive scat all over the ground." (The Seattle PI).

Watch Rachel Maddow's hilarious MSNBC segment:

Oh, and read this funny Greenpeace blogpost on the topic! The Tale of Peter Radwaste.

DOE tests robotic arm to remove radioactive waste

DOE is testing a new system to remove wastes from Hanford's 149 leak-prone single shell tanks. -- a robotic arm! The 40-foot, 10 million dollar arm is expected to "remove waste at rates that range from 85 gallons per hour up to nearly 1,000 gallons per hour".

"In some tanks, previously developed technology has not been capable of emptying tanks to the goal of 1 percent of waste remaining as a residual at their bottoms. It's also been expensive, with removing the last 15 percent of the waste in some tanks estimated to cost as much or more as removing the first 85 percent.

"Anything we do at Hanford is difficult. It's radioactive," said Nancy Uziemblo, a geologist at the Washington State Department of Ecology, which regulates tank waste retrieval." Read the whole Tri-City Herald article here.

New technology is great, but Heart of America NW would like to see it paired with expedient cleanup. Not so, from the DOE -- there's a public comment period going on NOW about the proposed settlement to DELAY cleanup schedules. Attend a public hearing near you and submit comments to let your voice be heard! Click here for more information.

16 October 2009

Stimulus good for Washington ... part of it, anyway

Most of the money allocated for Hanford.

Heart of America Northwest's research and advocacy on how stimulus dollars are being spent at Hanford - while USDOE wants to delay schedules - is featured in today's article by top investigative reporter Eric Nalder on PI.com and Hearst newspapers.

Executive Director, Gerry Pollet quoted: Pollet also said that although he was pleased that cleanup work along the Columbia River will be accelerated, questions about the use of the stimulus money remain. For one thing, he said the DOE received the extra money at a time when it was obtaining permission from the state to delay the completion date for the Hanford cleanup project.

"While we are spending $2 billion extra on accelerating cleanup, the energy department is insisting on relaxing enforceable schedules," he said.

Read the full article.

15 October 2009

Hanford's vit plant reaches halfway mark

After years of delays, $8 billion dollars over budget and more delays planned the Vitrification or Waste Treatment Plant (WTP)there has been some progress - the Plant is halfway complete.

It must be said this is still not a proven technology - mixing glass with nuclear wastes to create glass rods - but the hope is it will keep the wastes in a solid/non-fluid state to be stored in long-term underground location.

This 60 minutes video "Lethal and Leaking" from a few years ago shows the complications of the Vitrification Plant. It has has some fairly alarming parts, including the architects do not design more than 50% of the plant when the construction begins - it continually changes and morphs.

Nuclear and Global Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day -- and the focus is on Climate Change. This is a topic that Heart of America NW, while concerned, do not generally blog about because it is not directly related to the clean-up issues at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. However, climate change and nuclear issues are intertwined, especially with all of the buzz about the Climate Bill in the Senate.

Many people think that nuclear power is a great "alternative" energy source because it does not produce greenhouse gases, and thus is labeled "clean." Heart of America NW reminds the public that the multi-year process of mining uranium, building the plant, transporting materials and wastes produces enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Neither is nuclear "clean" because the United States still does not have an adequate solution for the highly radioactive and toxic wastes inherently produced in the process of generating nuclear power. Our landscape cannot afford another Hanford -- the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere.

Clean Water Action points to other hidden environmental costs of nuclear: "Nuclear power plants, depending on their size, must withdraw a billion or more gallons of water from an ecosystem every day. That water is superheated, carries a risk of exposure to radioactive material, and is then dumped back into the watershed. Not only does this badly distort the natural systems, it draws water away from drinking water and agricultural supplies. After the nuclear fuel is spent, it is remains a substantial threat to water. Technology for storing radioactive waste is not sufficiently developed to ensure that water sources will be safe from radioactive leakage for even a relatively short amount of time relative to the half life of the materials used."

So, today, as bloggers worldwide are considering the causes, ramifications and solutions to global climate change, let's remember that nuclear is not the climate change panacea. 

Radioactive hoses removed at Hanford

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald staff writer

Hanford workers have finished removing 11 obsolete transfer lines contaminated with high-level radioactive waste in the Hanford tank farms.

The flexible lines were used to transfer waste from leak-prone single-shell tanks into sturdier double-shell tanks, but the lines were past their design life. Some were buried in shallow trenches and others were above ground and covered with shielding to protect workers from radiation.

"Removal of these lines allows workers to focus on retrieving the sludge-like waste remaining in the single-shell tanks without these obstacles and interferences," Stacy Charboneau, DOE assistant manager for the tank farms, said in a statement. It also reduces risk to workers and the environment.

Washington River Protection Solutions committed to the Department of Energy and the Washington State Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator, to remove the six lines in the U Tank Farm when the new tank farm contractor began work a year ago.
Because the work was done for less money than budgeted and some additional money was appropriated by Congress, five more lines in the C Tank farms also were removed. The total cost was $1.8 million.

The U Tank Farm lines were last used to remove pumpable liquids from underground single-shell tanks before that work was completed for all Hanford tanks in 2004. The C Tank Farm lines were used more recently as work continued to remove solid waste from the tanks.

The C Tank Farm lines had to be disconnected from the tanks and then flushed with water to remove contaminants. The lines include a hose inside a hose so that if the inner hose leaked, contamination would be trapped in the outer hose.

Nine of the lines have been packed in waste containers and shipped to the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility in central Hanford. However, two lines still were too contaminated to be sent to that landfill. They were sent to Perma-Fix Northwest Richland to be cut into smaller pieces and then returned for disposal at Hanford's solid waste burial ground.

13 October 2009

Obama wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize!

Congratulations to President Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. His efforts to unite the world and push for global peace are inherent in his vision for a nuclear-free world. We also sense that the Obama administration is slightly more aware of nuclear waste issues than past administrations, and hope that this aspect of weapons production is not forgotten.

Friday's article in Wired magazine scrutinizes Obama's push for a nuclear-free world. Unfortunately, to date, the "talk" and "proposals" have been promising, but we have yet to see hard, enforceable results. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the public remind the administration that we need to see results. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize brings these non-proliferation issues into the spotlight, and need to make sure that the lights do not go down until more progress has been made towards a truly nuclear-free world.

Jonathan Hiskes, across town at Grist.org, presents a few thoughts on what Obama's Peace Prize might mean for environmentalists. "There's a connection between peace and living within ecological means," he writes. We think so too, especially when it comes to disarmament, because nuclear weapons are far from natural. The history of weapons production at Hanford, for example, created the largest environmental clean-up project in history!

12 October 2009

Officials explain proposed Hanford settlement

This article in the Tri-City Herald provides an overview of the proposed settlement agreement on Hanford Clean-up. For more information, see Heart of America's factsheet and tips for commenting.

The article quotes Ken Niles, of the Oregon Department of Energy, saying that Oregon is not thrilled with Hanford Clean-Up Agreement schedule and consent decree but is not seeing how to do better.

We at Heart of America Northwest are not thrilled with the settlement either. We are consistently advocating for USDOE to empty the waste from the single shell tanks (SSTs) more quickly -- and there is solid research proving that it is possible to do so faster than the schedules propose. In addition, the settlement must be changed to have an enforceable ban on USDOE from using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump -- a ban that includes all waste types. Finally, we are concerned that there is no commitment to build new tanks even if USDOE fails to open the vitrification plant or empty SSTs on time.

The public comment period on the proposed settlement is running NOW through December 11th! Attend a public meeting near you or take the time today to email your comments to TPACH@rl.gov. We need to work together to protect the Columbia River and public health for future generations.

09 October 2009

Tri-Party Agreement Settlement Factsheet

Everything wanted to know about the TPA Settlement is RIGHT here - ENJOY!

08 October 2009

Take Action to keep nuclear out of the Climate Bill

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) has prepared an online letter form so that YOU can easily contact your Senator and encourage him or her to limit nuclear subsidies in the Climate Bill.  Click here to take action today!

See related posts:

More Worker Safety Issues at Hanford

Last week, while filming to document work at Hanford under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a worker fell from scaffolding (without sustaining serious injuries).  Worker falls are a perennial problem at Hanford, and we're not quite sure why.  Read the full Tri-City Herald article.

07 October 2009

Senate Dems Opening to Nuclear as Path to GOP Support for Climate Bill

"Key Senate Democrats signaled yesterday they are willing to negotiate with Republicans on nuclear power and expanded domestic oil and gas development if it helps in nailing down the 60 votes necessary for floor passage on a comprehensive global warming and energy bill.

'Every idea is on the table," said Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of Senate climate legislation. "We're going to work in a bona fide way with everybody to see how to bridge a gap here. We've got to get a 60-vote margin. That means you've got to legislate, which means you have to compromise.'

Several moderate Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they are in talks with Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the nuclear language, as well as other key issues.

'A guy like Senator Kerry is looking for coalitions," Graham said. "If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system.'" Read the full NY Times article.

Related Posts: The Kerry-Boxer Bill and Nuclear Power
Contact your Senator.

06 October 2009

Reprocessing Nuclear Waste - How to Make a Bad Situation Worse

guest post by Dan Endreson, Minnesota Program Coordinator for Clean Water Action

One of the unfortunate consequences of using nuclear reactors to generate electricity is the toxic radioactive wastes and by-products. This waste is extremely hazardous and remains radioactive for hundreds of generations. In other words, if the ancient Egyptians had created nuclear reactors, their waste would remain radioactive to this day.

Here in Minnesota, the legislature has dealt with our nuclear waste problem by allowing nuclear facilities to store spent fuel waste in casks along the banks of the Mississippi River. These casks were meant to serve as a short term solution to nuclear waste storage while the federal government constructed a geological repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. As plans for opening Yucca Mountain have been eliminated, nuclear advocates claim they have found a new silver bullet to the waste problem – reprocessing spent fuel.

The idea behind reprocessing is that spent fuel can be enriched and used again in the nuclear fuel cycle. Nuclear advocates like to compare this to “recycling” and that reprocessing will decrease the levels of spent fuel waste. These claims are completely false.

Not only will reprocessing not solve the waste problem, it will actually make it worse. Reprocessing spent fuel involves treating the waste with nitric acid and other strong chemicals which creates huge volumes of liquid radioactive waste. The Department of Energy estimates that reprocessing spent fuel will result in a 6-fold increase in total waste volume compared to the direct disposal of spent fuel.[1]

Much like the spent fuel currently residing in Minnesota, no one has perfected a safe method for eliminating reprocessed waste. France and Britain, two of the leading reprocessing countries, have been discharging their liquid waste into the Atlantic Ocean, contaminating seafood all the way to the Arctic. Here in the United States, waste from reprocessing nuclear weapons during the Cold War continues to sit in leaky underground tanks that threaten our groundwater resources. The Department of Energy estimates it will cost over $100 billion to clean up the nearly 100 million gallons of high level reprocessing waste. Disposal of this waste may include burying waste-filled containers in a repository or by pouring the liquid waste into our rivers, lakes, and streams similar to the Europeans.

In addition to environmental concerns, reprocessing is also extremely costly and can contribute to nuclear proliferation. France spends about $1 billion extra per year on reprocessed fuel compared to conventional uranium fuel and the reprocessing process extracts plutonium, the same material used in nuclear weapons.[2]

As the years go by, the temporary waste facilities at Minnesota’s nuclear plants appear to become more and more permanent. In our rush to remove this waste, we must not act so hastily that we choose a solution that exacerbates the current environmental problems associated with nuclear reactors.

We urge our elected officials to reject any policy that leads the U.S. down the road of reprocessing of nuclear waste an increased stream of dangerous radioactive pollution.

[1] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, Draft Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, GNEP PEIS; DOE/EIS-0396, October 2008, links at http://nuclear.gov/peis.html; hereafter PEIS 2008, Table 4.8-6, p. 4-189. See thermal reactor recycle, Option 1. Comparable French data that separate reprocessing and reactor wastes are not readily available

[2] United States General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, “Nuclear Waste: Challenges to Achieving Potential Savings in DOE’s High-Level Waste Cleanup Program, GAO-03-593, June 2003

05 October 2009

The Kerry-Boxer Bill and Nuclear Power

Environmental and political blogs are a buzz with news and analysis of the Climate Bill recently introduced in the Senate. You may have seen mentions of the "climate bill", or the "Kerry-Boxer bill", or the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act".

Perhaps the greatest environmental and political challenge before our legislators today is to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kerry-Boxer bill does have nuclear provisions, although not as many as many Republicans preferred. For example, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), advocates for funding to build up to 100 new nuclear power reactors. Energy Secretary Steven Chu currently suggests only 4 or 5 new reactors.

We challenge our legislators even further to consider thoughtfully how to achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without relying on nuclear power. We need to remind ourselves that nuclear power is not cheap, neither is it "clean energy."

Click here to contact your Senator today and urge him or her to vote for truly clean energy that will protect the environment and public health.

addition (10/6/09)

Grist magazine is trying to find out where senators stand on the Kerry-Boxer bill. Help them out; and let us know, too!

02 October 2009

Abandon Waste In Hanford's leaky tanks AND Dump More Waste? Public opposition needed quickly!

Responding to news that GAO urges consideration of abandoning High-Level Nuclear Waste in bottom of Hanford tanks
by Heart of America NW's Executive Director, Gerry Pollet

The article in Oct. 2nd's Herald reporting that the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges that USDOE consider abandoning up to fifteen percent of the High-Level Waste in Hanford's tanks is the opening salvo in a public battle for the upcoming hearings on the WA State/USDOE settlement allowing 22 years of delay in emptying the leaking Single Shell Tanks, and on USDOE's Tank Closure Waste Management EIS (TCWMEIS). Hearings on the settlement are in November, and hearings on the EIS are expected early in 2010, with the massive draft EIS due out on October 23rd.

Over a million gallons of deadly High-Level Nuclear Waste has leaked from Hanford's Single Shell Tanks (SSTs). The contamination is moving far more rapidly into the groundwater and towards the Columbia River than USDOE claims is possible, according to monitoring data that USDOE has often hidden.

USDOE has long hoped to abandon ten percent of the waste in the bottom of Hanford's tanks and the waste in miles of pipelines. Heart of America Northwest, the Yakama Nation, NRDC have led opposition to USDOE including in the EIS the option (referred to in impact statements as an "alternative") of leaving ten percent of the waste forever (until it leaks) in the bottom of the tanks.

Why? The ten percent of the waste in the bottom, which is typically highly concentrated with thick sludge and hard crusts, has as much as twenty five percent of all the radiation in the tanks, including much of the waste that poses the greatest risk. This has been documented at the USDOE's Savannah River Site (SRS), for which USDOE won Congressional approval to reclassify the waste at the bottom of the tanks, and, by changing its name from High-Level Nuclear Waste, abandon the waste with a layer of cement grout on top.

Instead of cleaning up Hanford, USDOE wants to delay the emptying of the leaky Single Shell Tanks through 2040, possibly abandon the worst waste forever, AND dump more waste into Hanford's soil near the Columbia River!

Of course, it is far cheaper to abandon the High-Level Nuclear Waste in the bottom of tanks than it is to empty 99% of the waste or empty them to the practical ability of technology - which is what the Hanford Clean-Up Agreement and state hazardous waste law currently requires. USDOE, of course, argues that it can be exempted from the state hazardous waste law and threatens to seek to preempt the requirements.

Grouting the waste in the bottom of the tanks at SRS fails to meet performance criteria because the grout just forms on top of the waste layer - allowing the waste to continue to eat through the tanks and contaminate the soil and groundwater in the future.

Of course, half the "experts' GAO spoke with objected to getting 99% of the waste out of the tanks (or as much as feasible, which has been generally demonstrated to be 99%), since most of them came from USDOE and its contractors.

The public needs to weigh in on these schemes to abandon waste in the tanks, under the tanks and to dump even more waste at Hanford in the upcoming hearings in November on the proposed WA State/USDOE lawsuit settlement.  Another opportunity will be the hearings next year on the TCWMEIS and USDOE's separate proposal to use Hanford as a national waste dump for highly radioactive "Greater than Class C" waste in Spring of 2010.

Comment Today!


Public Comment Period on Proposed Delays to Hanford Cleanup runs from October 1 - December 11

Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) negotiations began in 2007, when it became clear that the US Department of Energy (USDOE) was going to miss crucial deadlines to clean up tank waste.  The negotiations fell apart, so the State of Washington sued USDOE in November 2008 to empty the tanks and treat the waste faster, and Oregon State joined the lawsuit in early 2009. USDOE managed to reach separate agreements with each of the states in August 2009, without going to court, and the Proposed Settlement Agreement outlines the conditions of the settlement with WA.  The settlement consists of two parts: a Consent Decree -- its deadlines are enforceable in federal court -- and changes to the TPA.

A quick rundown of some of the changes:
  • Hanford cleanup is delayed by decades;
  • Restrictions on importing off-site waste to Hanford are still unenforceable -- USDOE agrees only to have a "preferred alternative" of not adding more waste to Hanford until 2019 in the upcoming Tank Closure & Waste Management EIS;
  • Washington State accepts USDOE's delays and missed deadlines;
  • Milestone to empty all single shell tanks by 2018 delayed until 2040;
  • Milestone to treat all tank waste by 2028 delayed until 2047;
  • Milestone to "hot-start" waste treatment plant by 2011 delayed until 2019, with full scale operations not beginning until 2022;
  • USDOE will finally comply with Superfund law requiring it to annual submit a lifecycle scope, schedule & cost for completion of Hanford site cleanup.
Comment Today!

1. Include in the TPA an enforceable ban on USDOE adding more off-site waste until existing wastes are brought into compliance and are cleaned up: the “Clean-Up First” principle.
  • This has been the number one public concern in the last three years;
  • Put the ban on adding off-site waste to Hanford  in the Consent Decree as a part of the settlement of the lawsuit;
  • The Governor of Washington’s office said that “Clean-Up First” would be part of the negotiations and settlement, but it is not included in a way that requires enforcement;
  • The Hanford hazardous waste permit should include the “Clean-up First” principle for all landfills;
  • Instead, it will be included in an upcoming Environmental Impact Statement (Tank Closure & Waste Management); the EIS will say that the “preferred alternative” is not import off-site waste until 2019.  This is not a binding statement and this alternative should be removed. 
2. Reject taking until 2040 to empty single shell tanks (SSTs).
    • All of the leak-prone, inadequate single shell tanks (SST) were originally supposed to be emptied by 2018.  This date has been delayed 32 years to 2040.  Meanwhile, over 1 million gallons of radioactive waste have already leaked;
    • The deadline for treating the waste was originally 2028, but has been delayed 19 years to 2047;
    • USDOE should take steps to empty 40 of the 140 remaining tanks by 2019, instead of 9 as proposed in this settlement;
    • It is “unconscionable” (to use Governor Gregoire’s words) to allow waste to remain in the leaky SSTs until 2040; it is doubly unconscionable to allow DOE to add more waste to Hanford while these tanks have not been emptied!
3. Complete the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) as soon as possible – no more delays!
    • Construction was supposed to be complete by 2011, but the date for “hot-starting” the plant has been delayed 8 more years to 2019;
    • The plant will not be fully operational until 2022;
    • This project has a long history of mismanagement of funds and resources and is already over budget by $8 billion.  Let’s do it right – increase accountability to finish on time and without wasting taxpayer dollars.

Report evaluates rising costs, leaving more waste in Hanford tanks

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in September evaluated DOE's tank waste cleanup strategy at Hanford.  53 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste are stored in 140 single shell and 28 double shell underground tanks at Hanford.  67 of the single shell tanks have already leaked over 1 million gallons of waste and all of them are out of compliance because they were designed in the 40's and 50's to last for 20 years.

The GAO report suggests that DOE consider leaving more waste in the tanks -- DOE is currently legally required to remove 99% of tank waste, or to empty the tanks to the limits of technology.  GAO states that leaving more waste in the tanks could significantly cut costs, as they predict that tank waste cleanup costs could top $100 billion.  DOE currently estimates that a cool $77 billion will finish the job.  Read the Tri-City Herald article here.

The bottom line is that these tanks are leaking, and wastes must be fully removed and treated to protect the environment and public health.   There's no price tag too high for the protection of the groundwater and the Columbia River for generations to come.

01 October 2009

Hanford budget gets big boost

Hanford's fiscal year 2010 starts today, with a bonus of $87 million more than originally proposed by the Obama administration. The federal government is spending over $2 billion a year on Hanford clean-up. This year, the budget is supplemented by an additional $2 billion in stimulus funding (ARRA). Read the full story here.

The additional money is to be targeted towards groundwater clean-up and treating the radioactive sludge leftover from the K basin removal. The vitrification plant is fully funded for the year with $690 million. This year, tank farms have $408 million dedicated toward cleanup, up $320 million from FY2009. That's good news, but doesn't make sense paired with the proposed consent decree, which would delay emptying and treating tank waste by decades.

Hanford finishes shipping plutonium, unirradiated fuel

Two years ago, the Department of Energy decided to consolidate the nation's leftover weapons grade plutonium, in an effort to reduce security requirements at all sites but one. Savannah River, South Carolina, shown in the picture to the right, was targeted to receive the waste.

This article in the Tri-City Herald reports that Hanford finished shipping over 2,000 coffee-canister sized containers of plutonium-239 to Savannah River two years ago; in September 2009, they finished shipping unirradiated fuel off-site. Hanford still has some plutonium-238, originally received from Savannah River in the 1960's, that
was never used and is now slated to return to its origins. Looks like the DOE gets a kick out of transporting highly radioactive isotopes cross-country, a process which inherently exposes communities to radiation. We have to remain on guard, though, to be sure that DOE does not continue to target Hanford as a national radioactive and "mixed" radioactive and hazardous waste dump!