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.

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