30 November 2009

Fair Trade Holiday Shopping Event!

The event will take place at Ten Thousand Villages Seattle - 6417 Roosevelt Way NE #101, Seattle, WA 98115. 

This is a great opportunity to get some holiday shopping done while supporting fair trade and Hanford cleanup. 15% of the net sales will be donated to Heart of America NW.  We hope to see you tomorrw evening!

Hanford Summit in the works

A week before Thanksgiving, a Seattle-based group, Hanford Challenge, organized a meeting with a number of interested parties and stakeholder groups to discuss how to move forward in the dialogue on Hanford cleanup and plan a broadly based summit.  The morning of the meeting, the Tri-City Herald ran an article framing this preliminary meeting as Western Washington vs. Eastern Washington, a significant setback to expanding and building trust between the participants.  The issue with the article is that the Herald used Hanford Challenge's own words, taken directly from their website:

    Western Washington and Portland are "concerned about Hanford's environmental impact past, present and future," the advocacy group says on its website.
    Tri-City residents "are less concerned with environmental impacts," it said, and characterized Tri-City groups as focused on jobs and economic development. 
    "This polarization has interfered with the ability to hold a dialogue about the important issues facing the region when it comes to Hanford," the group said, describing Hanford environmental cleanup as "broken."

This language is most likely aimed at a first-time visitor to the website, an audience unfamiliar with the dialogue which already occurs with surprising consensus at the Hanford Advisory Board on the values that should drive Hanford cleanup and which the US Department of Energy is loathe to adopt and apply.  As Heart of America Northwest's Executive Director, Gerry Pollet, works in the Board and serves in the Board's leadership, we have seen the entire range of stakeholders on the Board forcefully join for a common vision.

This vision is what Heart of America has been the leading voice for: "Clean-Up First," the most basic environmental principle.  No more waste should be added to Hanford until existing wastes are brought into compliance and cleaned up.  In addition, everyone on the Board agrees that USDOE should investigate and remove the massive quantities of Plutonium and other wastes in soil and over 40 miles of unlined ditches at Hanford, and that groundwater needs to be cleaned up and restored for future use.

Ideally, the Hanford Summit will create a space for meaningful dialoge and will reinvigorate openness at Hanford.  Much discussion is needed on an investment in sustainable, clean energy at Hanford tied to the cleanup mission and vision, for the benefit of the local and regional economy.  The planning meeting had good participation from USDOE managment, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency and a range of stakeholders.

And today, Tom Carpenter, the Executive Director of Hanford Challenge, has a guest editorial in the Tri-City Herald, arguing that everyone's interest in cleanup and protecting future generations is the basis for common ground.  

25 November 2009

Raging Grannies Sing at Seattle Hanford Hearing

At the Seattle hearing on the proposed Settlement between WA and USDOE on November 12, 2009, the Raging Grannies were the first to give a formal comment, recorded here!

You can still submit comments to the agencies on the settlement until December 11th. Email your thoughts directly to TPACH@rl.gov and check out Heart of America Northwest's Citizens' Guide for more information!

23 November 2009

Hanford Stimulus Funds Update

"If you want to win the stimulus sweepstakes, it helps to have one of the planet's nastiest toxic waste sites in your backyard" [Mike Stuckey, MSNBC]

Why has Hanford received stimulus funds while some cities have been overlooked?

In this article on stimulus funding for Hanford cleanup, Mike Stucky argues that the Benton County area, which is home to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, deserves stimulus dollars because government-employed or contracted workers are working, doing everything from "sealing up old reactors" to experimenting with vitrifying radioactive waste. Stuckey explains that Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allows the Department of Energy, which oversees Hanford (and other nuclear waste sites') cleanup, to use stimulus funds to accelerate clean-up efforts. This year, Hanford received an extra $1.96 billion to aid cleanup, in addition to the $2 billion that the project receives annually.

The stimulus package has certainly boosted the Tri-Cities economy. In fact, Hanford employment is projected to peak in 2010 at 10,800 workers. A decline (towards 2,100 employees) is not expected to take place until 2050, when most of the environmental cleanup work is expected to be completed. The stimulus money has created or saved the equivalent of 2,500 jobs. The creation of jobs has spurred retail sales in the Tri-City area, keeping the economy well-lubricated. This economic upswing during a national depression suggests that the Tri-Cities is "one of those communities where it [the stimulus package] has worked exactly like it was supposed to," as expressed by Carl Adrian, president of TRIDEC.

Unfortunately, other cities across the US have not fared as well. Elkhart County in Northern Indiana received only $49 million in stimulus funding, compared to Benton County, WA's $1.99 billion. This is despite the fact that the counties are economically and demographically similar - both counties are dependent on single-sector economies and agriculture, the cost of living in comparable, etc. So why the discrepancy in the amount of stimulus funds awarded to each county? Stuckey asserts that government money is better spent on clean-up activities because Hanford is an environmental threat & a hazard to those around it; in addition, the project cleanup project is ongoing, so the extra funds provided a burst of momentum, and jobs did not have to be created from scratch.

Heart of America Northwest is interested too in the compensations the top officers of the contractors at Hanford receive - this data was required to be released as part of the stimulus package and is available on recovery.gov. Tom Zarges, the top officer of the Washington River Protection Solutions LLC, is compensated $1,955,909 annually. Another interesting aspect of the distribution of stimulus funding is that of the 10 largest contracts awarded, 9 are related to nuclear waste cleanup. Stuckey is absolutely right - the biggest asset for getting stimulus funds turns out to be the nation's nastiest wastes.

18 November 2009

Communicating danger of nuclear waste to future civilizations

People familiar with Hanford and its clean-up struggle already know how dangerous and critical the radioactive contamination is, but what about everyone else? How are we to keep informing people of this nuclear mess in order for future generations to understand the necessary precautions of radioactivity? During a 2004 cleanup operation at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, personnel digging through a trench uncovered a safe containing a glass bottle. And inside the bottle was white sludge later determined as plutonium. The potential danger of this accessible bottle of plutonium, which could have been discovered by nearly anyone, is a startling idea.

Juliet Lapidos published an article on Slate illustrating these points and how there is a need for getting the information out there efficiently to individuals, centuries from now. Language and culture are constantly evolving and differ all across the world. The English language has continually changed throughout the centuries, and "universal symbols" aren't so universal. A skull-and-crossbones is one example that is too ambiguous: Even today, it connotes danger only to some. Latin Americans may associate it with the Catholic Day of the Dead holiday. Mere markings and symbols to warn people that hazardous materials are nearby is inefficient for their understanding. People also need to know what the extent of such hazardous dangers are; stumbling upon a radioactive waste site cannot be weighed the same as spilling some toilet cleaner. Sticking a "KEEP OUT" sign on fences of nuclear sites has a minimal chance of deterring trespassers.

So far the committees in charge of accessing this information haven't done the most satisfactory job. Thousands of Washingtonians still have no idea what or where Hanford is. It's important to keep a long-term outlook when making plans for radioactive waste; plans that will include a wide variety of people from all over the world. Anthropological, political, economical, biological, and linguistic ideas all offer points of view that can lead to a encompassing solution.

17 November 2009

Seattle Crowd Opposes Hanford Cleanup Delays

Yesterday, the SeattlePI.com published a great article on the Hanford hearing held last Thursday. Reporter John Stang nailed the essence of the hearing with a few selected quotes from the members of the public who gave formal comments at the hearing:

"It seems we're getting the short end of the stick," said UW Masters of Public Health student Erin Hurley;

"We're here tonight because the Department of Energy has broken its word (on the original 2028 completion deadline)," said Gerald Pollet, director of the Hanford watchdog organization Heart of America Northwest.

And another ringer: "Also, an unresolved question exists on how the 1 million gallons of highly radioactive leaked tank wastes should be tackled." Heart of America Northwest is beginning to review the recently released draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, in which the US Department of Energy proposes to never cleanup the majority of contamination that has leaked from Hanford's High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks, plutonium and other wastes which USDOE deliberately discharged from the tanks and Plutonium processing facilities into the ground! Check back for updates!

Don't forget that it's not too late to comment on the proposed Settlement, the subject of the hearing last week. Submit comments via email to TPACH@rl.gov; Heart of America Northwest encourages you to copy your comments to Governor Gregoire (WA), Governor Kulongoski (OR) and Attorney General McKenna (WA).

13 November 2009

Seattle Public Hearing 11-12-09

The Seattle hearing on the proposed Hanford clean-up delays was held last night.  We were excited to see that it was a packed house, with around 100 in attendance!  Thanks to the classes at the University of Washington for showing up and giving great comments! 

The first public comment was given by the Seattle Raging Grannies.  They prepared a statement that strongly denounced the proposed settlement for its 22 year delay in emptying the High-Level Nuclear Waste from Hanford's leaky Single Shell Tanks & because it does not include an enforceable ban preventing the importation of off-site waste to Hanford.  Then, they sang a brilliant song (I hope to get the lyrics to post here soon).  That much said, they stole the show.

Over 20 unique individuals gave a formal comment, all of them concerned about the clean up delays.  The majority of the comments also included statements about how disappointed the public is that the State of WA didn't secure an enforceable ban on off-site waste as a part of this settlement. 

Last night marked the end of the series of five public hearings held during this comment period.  But don't despair!  You can still submit your own thoughts directly to the agencies by emailing them to TPACH@rl.gov.  See our Citizens' Guide for more information and Heart of America Northwest's comments and concerns.

11 November 2009

Ecology employee named new director

On Monday, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire named Ted Sturdevant the new director of the Department of Ecology. Sturdevant replaces Jay Manning, who recently became Gregoire's chief of staff. For the past seven years, Sturdevant worked at Ecology as the director of governmental relations.

Ecology is one of the three signatory parties in the Tri-Party Agreement (aka Hanford Clean-Up Agreement), and serves as a regulator for the clean-up activities at the Hanford site. Sturdevant stated that Hanford is on the short list of priorities for Ecology. Heart of America NW hopes he sticks to that statement. It comes at a time when the State of WA is agreeing to 22 years of dealys in emptying the High-Level Nuclear Waste from Hanford's leaky single shell tanks. Over 100 square miles of groundwater at Hanford are already contaminated, and delays to emptying the tank wastes are compounded into delays in cleaning up the surrounding contamination.

You can still comment on this settlement by emailing your comments to TPACH@rl.gov, or attending the public hearing in Seattle tomorrow evening. The hearing is at 7pm at the Quality Inn (618 John St, near Seattle Center), and Heart of America NW will lead a pre-meeting workshop at 6pm. We hope to see you there!

Feds add more radioactive waste to Hanford import ban

By Scott Learn, The Oregonian

After public protest, the U.S. Department of Energy is pledging to keep a significant chunk of radioactive waste -- including metal from decommissioned power plants -- out of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation until at least 2022.

The department had not included that category of waste -- known as "Greater than Class C" or GTCC waste -- in a proposed settlement with Oregon and Washington over cleanup of radioactive tank waste at Hanford. The three parties agreed to a moratorium on disposing of other forms of radioactive waste at Hanford until a plant to treat the tank waste is up and running. The plant is scheduled to be fully operational by 2022.

Heart of America Northwest, a Hanford watchdog group, first raised the issue of GTCC waste not being included in the moratorium. That generated protests at public hearings on the settlement, which led the Department of Energy to issue a statement last week saying that the GTCC waste "will not be imported to Hanford for the duration of the moratorium."

-- Scott Learn

09 November 2009

Hanford Advisory Board says to empty tanks more quickly

Heart of America Northwest's Executive Director, Gerry Pollet, played a key role in drafting the advise the Hanford Advisory Board passed on Friday, November 6, 2009. This piece of advise is in response to the Settlement Agreement the State of WA reached with the US Department of Energy in August, that delays emptying leaky Single Shell tanks at Hanford by 22 years. In addition, the State of WA did not secure an enforceable ban on the importation of off-sites radioactive & mixed radioactive/toxic wastes to Hanford.

The Hanford Advisory Board's advise urges the Tri-Party Agencies to
  • Develop more aggressive deadlines for emptying High-Level Nuclear Waste from leaky Single Shell Tanks buried underground at Hanford;
  • Not use bulk vitrification for supplemental treatment of low activity radioactive waste at Hanford;
  • Start up the Low Activity Waste portion of the main vitrification facility before the rest of the plant is operational. The settlement delays the "hot-start" date for the Waste Treatment Plant until 2019, with full operations not commencing until 2022;
Not surprisingly, the Hanford Advisory Board's advise is similar to Heart of America's own tips for commenting. What's remarkable about this, though, is that the Board is comprised of members representing the entire spectrum of stakeholder & public interests at Hanford. It's clear that the delays in emptying the leaky tanks are unacceptable for everyone.

You can read the Tri-City Herald article on the Board's advise here.

"Local landfills should not be the destination for federal nuclear-production waste"

An article posted Friday on tennessean.com opposes the dumping of federal nuclear wastes in Tennessee's municipal landfills.  In October, the US Department of Energy announced its plans to ship over 200 truckloads of soil conataminated with uranium, plutonium & strontium to a municpal landfill in TN from New York.  Thankfully, DOE changed its mind and shipped the waste to a licensed facility in Utah, as Tennessean officials objected.  The article states, "Tennessee has unwisely allowed itself to become a chief dumping ground for material from defunct nuclear weapons-related facilities."

Municipal landfills are inappropriate destinations for federal nuclear wastes.  Heart of America Northwest opposes this practice, wherever it occurs in the nation.  We support fully regulated disposal in licensed, monitored landfills designed for radioactive wastes.  The EnergySolutions Low Level Waste landfill in Utah, where the contaminated soils mentioned above were eventually shipped, is designed and licensed for Low Level radioactive wastes.

04 November 2009

Article on Portland Hanford Settlement Hearing - 10/27/09

Hanford: Proposed Settlement Could Allow for Decades of Cleanup Delays and "Hottest" Nuclear Waste to be Shipped to Hanford Nuclear Reservation
by Dvija Michael Bertish, originally posted on Rosemere Neighborhood Association

Note from Heart of America NW: USDOE voluntarily added Greater Than Class C wastes to the moratorium on off-site waste at the beginning of the hearing -- these are the "hottest" nuclear wastes in question. This happened after our organizing efforts saw an article in the Oregonian & very strong opposition to GTCC wastes at the Hood River hearing on 10/26/09.

The states of Oregon and Washington, having filed suit against the US Department of Energy in 2008, have negotiated a court-enforceable settlement agreement regarding continuing cleanup activities at Hanford nuclear reservation. Hanford is the most heavily contaminated facility in the western hemisphere with 53 million gallons of radioactive waste at 194 million Curies, the measure of radioactive potency.

The core of the settlement agreement focuses on languishing federal efforts to empty 140 remaining single shell storage tanks of radioactive sludge, and the severely delayed construction of the largest radioactive waste treatment facility in the US. Almost half of the single shell storage tanks are known to be leaking into the soil and to have infiltrated the groundwater in the Hanford plateau. This radioactive spill is moving toward the Columbia River and will reach the shoreline within 20-50 years according to current estimates. A seismic event could increase the speed of travel.

Radioactive waste from the deconstructed nuclear power plants along the shoreline is already leaching strontium into the river at levels 1500 times the drinking water standard. The city of Richland, WA, just downstream from Hanford, relies on surface water from the Columbia River for its potable water supply.

The 3000 man construction crew for the new Hanford waste processing plant is only 50% of the way through the project. When complete, the vitrification facility (120’ tall and 1 ½ football fields in length) is supposed to convert the liquid sludge within the leaking tanks into glass logs for permanent storage. According to the settlement agreement, the facility is slated to begin operation by 2019, and be at maximum efficiency by 2022. It was supposed to be completed by 2011. The settlement agreement hinges on the assumption that the facility will begin operation on time, despite being 8 years behind schedule, design and construction failures, and $8 billion in budget overruns. According to the settlement agreement, once the vitrification plant is operational, Hanford is targeted to receive the “hottest” (Greater than Class C) radioactive waste from all around the US — the waste would be buried in landfills or boreholes, not processed into glass. The conciliation prize in the settlement agreement is a limited moratorium on shipments of nuclear waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant begins operation.

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