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.

Read the full post


  1. The statement that residents of Richland are already being exposed to harmful levels of radioactive waste from Hanford sounds wrong. Just because the strontium is getting into the river above the drinking water standard doesn't mean it is affecting drinking water sources several miles downstream, or even recreational users of the river. In the interest of accuracy in the discussion on Hanford, what is the basis for this statement?

  2. Anonymous,
    You're right; according to a presentation given last week by Ted Poston at the PNNL, the "maximally exposed" individual in 2008 was exposed to 0.045 mrem of radiation. This is not technically a harmful level of radiation. So, that sentence will be removed.

    However, it still doesn't mean that there's nothing to be concerned about at the Hanford site. There's a plume of contaminated groundwater that's over 100 square miles (even the Department of Energy will tell you that) and it's seeping towards the Columbia River. Our effort focuses on preventing more off-site waste from being dumped at Hanford until the existing wastes and contamination are cleaned up and brought into compliance.

    Thanks for your comment!