22 December 2009

Quick Overview of Environmental and Health Impacts of USDOE's "preferred alternatives"

The draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, released in October 2009, outlines the Department of Energy's "preferred alternatives" for the future of Hanford cleanup.  These include:
  • Never cleaning up the million gallons of deadly radioactive waste leaked from Hanford's High-Level Nuclear Waste tanks - despite the fact that contamination is moving faster towards the Columbia River than USDOE presiously claimed was possible;
  • Never characterizing, or cleaning up, the 40 miles of unlined soil trenches into which DOE dumped massive amounts of chemical and highly radioactive wastes - including plutonium;
  • Not dismantling the FFTF reactor, instead "entobming" it;
  • And, adding even more waste to Hanford's existing problems.
The impacts to public health and the Columbia River of these "preferred alternatives" are nothing short of deadly - for future generations of our children, Native American tribes with treaty rights to live along the River at Hanford, and for the Columbia River itself.  Heart of America Northwest's expert team is busy reviewing this 6,000 page document.  Our team includes hydrogeologists, retired regulators and risk assessment experts.  We're finding that USDOE's own hidden analysis within the 6,000 pages reveals:
  • Plutonium contamination entering the Columbia River will grow to over 300 times the Drinking Water Standards over the next thousand years due to existing wastes - this is not including the impact of dumping even more wastes at Hanford;
  • Using Hanford as a national waste dump - USDOE's own analysis shows - increases the cancer risk from groundwater tenfold - to 100 times WA State's cleanup cancer risk standard;
But no matter how many deaths are projected from USDOE's plans, USDOE is still free to adopt its "preferred alternatives."

It is up to us - with your help - to stop this from happening! 

18 December 2009

Hanford plutonium finishing plant ready for demolition

Thursday, December 17, 2009, marked the first time the plutonium finishing plant at Hanford was open those without high security clearance.  Media, community leaders and plant employees were invited inside to look at the plutonium storage vaults and celebrate the finalization of shipping the high-security materials from the plant.  Until now, this plant was one of the most secure sites in the entire United States.

2/3 of the plutonium for the US's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War passed through the finishing plant, which is now slated for demoltion.  The plutonium discs, the size of hockey pucks, were stored in canisters the size of coffee cans in a giant rack inside the plant.  Read the full Tri-City Herald article here.

17 December 2009

Hanford B Reactor passed over as National Park

In 2004, the Bush administration mandated a study of four historic Manhattan Project sites to determine their eligibility for inclusion in the national park system. The four sites considered were:
  • Hanford Site (WA)
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory (NM)
  • Oak Ridge Reservation (TN)
  • Sites in Dayton (OH)
Five years later, in fall 2009, the National Park Service released a summary document of the findings of its study and a list of "preferred alternatives." The Park Service has ruled out the potential of including all four sites together as a Manhattan Project unit because of the vast distances between the sites and other limiting factors. In addition, the Hanford Site B Reactor, the nation's first production-scale nuclear reactor, was dismissed as an option for a stand alone national park. New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory is the only site remaining under consideration.

If you're interested in being involved in the conclusion to the study, the National Park Service is holding a series of public meetings in late January and early February 2010 at each of the sites under consideration. Information is on page 7 of the study summary.

New cancer package for Hanford workers approved

An article in today's Tri-City Herald reports that the automatic compensation granted to Hanford employees who developed cancer due to radiation exposure will be expanded. Hundreds of past claims that were previously denied will be reviewed again, in addition to 340 pending claims.

A new exposure cohort will be developed, granting "automatic $150,000 compensation and medical coverage [...] to any Hanford worker who was employed for at least 250 days from Oct. 1, 1943, through June 30, 1972." Workers during these years may have been exposed to polonium, thorium and neptunium. Dozens of cancers qualify for the extended coverage.

The issues represented in this article remind Hanford stakeholders of the necessity to ensure both effective cleanup of environmental contamination while arduously protecting workers' safety on site.

14 December 2009

HOANW's Final Comments on the Proposed Settlement

The comment period on the Proposed Settlement & Consent Decree and TPA Changes ended last Friday, December 11th. Heart of America Northwest worked hard to generate turnout at each of the 5 public meetings held in Washington and Oregon and encouraged everyone to submit comments. Thank you to everyone who attended hearings and gave comments!

Our comments are now posted on our website - check them out! Now we wait for Washington State and USDOE to issue their responses to the comments and see what their next actions will be.

What's next? USDOE released the draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement (TCWMEIS) in late October. Heart of America's attention is now turned to reviewing and analyzing the EIS and we are preparing a Citizens' Guide and organizing efforts for the public hearings to be held on it in early 2010. Stay tuned for updates & more information!

10 December 2009

Hanford Bracelets, Just in Time for the Holidays!

There is always a way to raise money for a good cause! A Hanford-focused anthropology department class at the University of Washington has created bracelets that show how simple projects can raise money for a good cause. The bendable copper bracelets saying STOP DUMP, HANFORD, WA concisely state what advocates for clean-up work for continuously.

To order a bracelet, contact rdgaspard1@gmail.com.
All proceeds go to Heart of America NW; while supplies last.

09 December 2009

McCain claims Hanford stimulus funds a waste

Hanford ranks #10 out of McCain's top 100 wasteful stimulus projects, according to a list released Tuesday, December 8th.  The Hanford cleanup, McCain and fellow Republican Senator Coburn claim, has received "billions of dollars of stimulus funding that have been wasted, mismanaged or directed toward silly and shortsighted projects."  The Tri-City Herald reports here.

Topping their list of concerns is the fact that of the 177 underground High-Level Nuclear Waste storage tanks at Hanford, none of them has been permanently closed.  They are right to be concerned about this fact, and Heart of America Northwest is even more concerned that the State of Washington agreed to 22 more years of delay in emptying these leaky, outdated tanks in the recent settlement proposal that is under comment period until this Friday, December 11th.  Submit your comment today - email TPACH@rl.gov. 

08 December 2009

Demolition of first Hanford processing canyon begins

An article in the Tri-City Herald over the weekend reports on the initiation of a multi-year project do demolish a "processing canyon" at the Hanford site. A processing canyon is a long, narrow plant that chemically separated plutonium from irradiated fuel rods, similar to the nuclear "re"processing that is a current topic under hot debate. Hanford is home to 5 such processing canyons; this first one to be demolished was never actually used to extract uranium and thus is the least contaminated of the Hanford canyons.

The article comments on the final destination of contaminated materials from the canyon:

Plans call for leaving radioactive waste permanently in place as the lower level of the plant is made into a giant waste receptacle for contaminated equipment from the plant.

Then the ceiling and walls will be collapsed and covered with an environmentally protective earthen cap that would form a huge berm standing 40 feet high along the length of the former processing canyon.

07 December 2009

Hanford pulls down big stimulus dollars

An article in yesterday's Oregonian again analyzes the effect of $2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus dollars at the Hanford nuclear waste dump in Southeastern Washington.  The Hanford site is the "single biggest recipient of federal stimulus contracts."

However, the influx of stimulus dollars, that doubles Hanford's annual operating budget, will not significantly expedite cleanup, an effect the public strongly desires.  Plans to empty Hanford's outdated and leaking single shell tanks that store 53 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste are unaffected by stimulus dollars.  In fact, in a legal settlement reached in August 2009 between Washington and the US Department of Energy (USDOE), deadlines to empty these tanks - that have already leaked over one million gallons of radioactive waste and contamination is spreading towards the Columbia River - were delayed by 22 years.

The Oregonian article quotes Heart of America Northwest's Executive Director, saying, "They could be spending the money on emptying those tanks," says Gerry Pollet..."What should be the highest priorities of the Energy Department are not getting funded with the stimulus."

Pollet is bothered as well by the inequity of spending so much stimulus money at Hanford when other areas are hurting for jobs. "You could pay for an enormous number of teachers and an enormous number of health clinics with that $2 billion," he says.

Heart of America Northwest believes that stimulus funds should have gone to amending USDOE's legal violation and catching up for years of delay in emptying the single shell tanks, instead of to the many projects on which USDOE is spending money.

While USDOE hypes talk of cleaning up the contaminated groundwater flowing to the Columbia with stimulus funds - only 7.5% of the stimulus funds at Hanford are directed towards groundwater cleanup.  Hundreds of million of dollars are going to projects to demolish buildings that do not pose high environmental of safety risks, but do make for nice photographs of "progress".

Simultaneously, USDOE "saved" over 400 million dollars by unilaterally slowing down the emptying of the High-Level Nuclear Waste tanks in the past five years.  USDOE stopped or slowed down other important projects in violation of cleanup schedules, and USDOE has yet to commit to using sitmulus funds to attempt to reach compliance with the prior schedules.

The comment period on the proposed settlement ends this Friday, December 11th.  For more background information and details on the proposed delays, read Heart of America Northwest's Citizens' Guide to the Settlement. And don't forget to submit your thoughts, directly to the agencies, by sending a quick email to TPACH@rl.gov!

01 December 2009

One million years of isolation

In an interview conducted by BLDGBLOG, Abraham Van Luik, a US Department of Energy geoscientist currently based at Yucca Mountain, Nevada - a controversial site chosen for nuclear waste storage - highlights the specialized aspects of his position.  The interview illuminates the technical nature of nuclear waste storage from a geographical standpoint and is a great introduction to nuclear waste issues.

When questioned about the design of the Yucca Mountain facilities and other projects of similar magnitude, Van Luik emphasized the need to access all available storage resources.  What geologies are available in the country in question?  For instance, Sweden plans to use granite to isolate waste because that is the material most readily available in its geologic landscape.  Meanwhile, France chose to use clay.  In the United States, however, Van Luik argues that there are "many possible sites" for radioactive storage.  In a situation where there are multiple potential sites, Congress tends to favor the most cost-effective option.  As a result, cose was a significant factor in selecting Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear waste storage site.

He goes on to explain that the storage design involves "wrapping the stainless steel packages, in which we would receive the spent fuel, in Alloy 22 and sticking them inside this mountain with a layer of air over the top."  Alloy 22 was chosen because it will stand up well to the top layer of oxygen.  Additionally, it is compatible with Nevada's dry climate.

Van Luik notes that other nations, with the exception of Mexico, are approaching storage quite differently by using only salt, only granite or only clay.  The United States' "philosophy of containment" for nuclear waste is that "two systems" must be used.  He goes on to add that although it is not feasible to do a realistic mock-up of Yucca Mountain, the DOE has tested safety assessments by simulating how water moves through ranges and how spent fuel dissolves.  When asked to comment on waste transportation, Van Luik assured the interviewers that specially made containers and cargo trains will ensure that "everything is shielded."  Workers as well as the public will be protected from exposure.  Van Luik then explains that there are no current plants to seal the repository's exterior door because these openings have little to do with how the mountain funtions; rather than harming the environment, these openings will serve as ventilation shafts, which are needed because the waste is so hot.

Currently, however, the world's 270,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel have no final repository.  The Obama administration slashed funding for the Yucca Mountain project earlier in 2009, and has yet to appoint a Blue Ribbon panel to assess what to do with the US's nuclear waste.  Finland is leading the world in actually moving on with it's repository - as this recent IEEE article illuminates.