19 December 2010

The Future Voices for Hanford: Are They Listening?

This past quarter, I was fortunate enough to take a class at the University of Washington that focused on the environmental issues and public policies of the Hanford nuclear site. The class gave a holistic overview of the history of Hanford as part of the Manhattan Project up through the Cold War and present day issues. Throughout the class we had numerous speakers come in to give us their perspectives on Hanford and the environmental and human rights policies involved. At the beginning of the class, it was astounding how few people, even at the college level, even knew where Hanford was, let alone the fact that it is the single largest public works project in the U.S. and the most contaminated site in the western hemisphere. Therefore, when it came time to design my final project for the class my goal was education. 

A small group of my peers and I put together a presentation for high school students on the history of the Hanford site, who is affected and the cleanup options. We decided to present to four different classes in the Greater Seattle area. (two at Roosevelt High School in Seattle and two at Juanita High School in Kirkland.) Towards the end of the presentations we always included a call to action where we told the students, "You are in high school and that means you are approaching voting age. Now is the time where you need to start learning about issues going on in your country and in your state and deciding how you feel about them. You also need to find out how the people who speak for you, Senators and Representatives, feel about issues too." We made sure to give them the email and office addresses of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and encouraged the students to get involved (part of which is pictured to the left). 

Prior to our visits to the schools we had some preconceived notions about how effective our presentations would be with the short attention spans that many high school students seem to have. As we expected, not many of the students had any clue what Hanford was, but much to our surprise, we did not simply talk to rooms full of glassy eyed kids counting the seconds until lunch. When they realized how close Hanford is and how serious it is, most of the students seemed surprised and even outraged. That is exactly what we were looking for:  passion. We were thrilled that students had questions or at points were even confused as to why cleanup had been neglected for so long and why government organizations were being dishonest about their intentions. These students are the future of Hanford and they care.

I would without a doubt call our visits to the local high schools a success. However, we are only a handful of informed college students and we only spread the word to a few classrooms full of students. Hopefully they will spread the word and do something with the passion that they seemed to be full of during class. But how can we reach more people? The contamination at Hanford will outlast you and me and even the students we reached. Future generations will inherit this problem and they need to know about how it will effect their planet and their people. How can we make sure that everyone knows and has an opinion about Hanford? Knowledge dies if it is not passed on and we need to make sure that Hanford's lethal legacy becomes a call to action and an inspiration for change.

Written by Stephanie Carson. Senior at the University of Washington studying Medical Anthropology and Global Health and Sociology, and Heart of America Northwest volunteer.

11 December 2010

What Weighs 300 Tons, Moves 20 mph, Takes 4 Days to get to Hanford, and Heats Nuclear Waste over 2,100 Degrees?


Migrating all the way from the Peterson Inc. construction plant located in Ogden, Utah, the 125-ton vitrification plant melter concluded its 800-mile journey to its new home at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant. It is the second and final melter to be assembled at Hanford to begin operations on Bechtel’s plant that will be the world’s largest radioactive waste treatment plan for the United States Department of Energy. What has been termed the Hanford Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization plant aims to reduce and process Hanford’s 53 million gallons of radioactive waste.

Vitrification proves to be a bright possibility in reducing the massive amount of chemical and radioactive waste currently stored at Hanford. By combining the waste with glass-forming materials to over 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, the mixture can be poured into steel canisters for permanent storage. Once in the glass form, the waste is stable and much less reactive.

With an estimated completed construction date of 2016 and fully operational date of 2019, we have several years until we can see the vitrification plant’s possibility. This proposal sheds hope for a possible step in the right direction for fully cleaning up the hazardous waste stored in Hanford. The Hanford Site has 177 tanks of liquid waste, with 67 of them suspected to have leaked in the past, and only 28 double-shell tanks. With a history of attempts at storing this hazardous waste in our Washington state, the ability to do something with what is a dangerous threat to our environment is promising. The repeating history of Hanford is ignoring the danger the nuclear waste poses on the environment, and leaving the responsibility of cleaning up to future generations. While we cannot take back what has been done in the past, we can still make sure these next generations would not have to deal with what we continue to avoid. We should start identifying this waste, and figuring out the best means of cleaning it up. I fervently hope in the cleanup of Hanford, especially the highly radioactive waste, and I believe vitrification can speed this along.

This post was written by Paul Glantz, a Medical Anthropology and Global Health Junior at the University of Washington and a volunteer with Heart of America Northwest.

07 December 2010

Join HOANW to Petition WA State for a Cleanup of Commercial Radioactive Waste Dumps at Hanford

You can take action TODAY by signing the petition asking Gov. Gregoire and WA Dept. of Ecology for clean-up! Please take a minute to sign - below is more information about the potential effects of this commercial radioactive waste dump.

"Contamination from Hanford's radioactive wastes continues to pose risks to the safety of food, fish and people.

Release of radioactive contamination from the site is leaching into the soil and groundwater — endangering the surrounding farmland and water used for irrigation, as well as the health of local citizens and wildlife.

Recently a leak was discovered just hundreds of feet from the Columbia River and less than a mile from the city of Richland's drinking water pumphouse — with contamination levels 10 to 20 times higher than those considered lethal from only one hour of exposure.



What can you do to help prevent future disasters? Sign this petition to Governor Gregoire and the Washington Dept. of Ecology calling for a proper investigation and cleanup of the unlined, leaking commercial radioactive waste dump in the center of Hanford."

30 November 2010

Blowing the Whistle at Hanford

The UW anthropology class recently listened to the story of Hanford whistle-blowers - Ed and Cindy Bricker. Although both worked at Hanford, Ed - a third-generation Hanford worker - was a nuclear technician and Cindy worked in public affairs. Their story is very interesting, and it is helpful gaining a perspective of Hanford from those who worked there.
Before learning more about this interesting couple, it's nice to refresh - or in case you did not previously know - on some of the logistics of Hanford. DuPont was one of the early contractors at Hanford. Fuel elements were reacted with solvents to extract Plutonium and Uranium. The set-up of Hanford involves the facilities being far enough apart from one another so that if something were to occur at one facility, there would be a minimum effect on other facilities. Because of this separation, there is also little worker interaction. From a sociological viewpoint, this seems to be put in place purposefully in order to maintain secrecy in Hanford. However, there is some connection in that the Plutonium and Uranium were removed to other facilities after running through processes i.e. the Plutonium Plant. Another plant was PUREX (Plutonium Uranium Extraction). At the time, it was thought that technology could solve anything.
Despite this structure, there have been issues of safety, as I'm sure we have all heard. Ed Bricker gave an example of his father being exposed to radiation coming at him; he managed to hide behind batteries, which blocked him from radiation. Before, Ed's father was pro-Hanford. His feelings in that regard did not necessarily change, but after this incident he was more involved with union workers.
Cindy is also a Richland native. She says that Richland natives follow the three H's: High School (Richland High School), Hanford, and Heatherhouse (a retirement home). Growing up, people were not worried about Hanford, but they were concerned that they could be bombed because of Hanford's existence. However, she added that Hanford is a self-sustaining area, and is insulated from the recession even now.
During his time working at Hanford, Ed began noticing safety issues. His wife didn't believe him, insisting she would know if there were any. Cindy was working in public affairs, after all. However, after strange occurrences began happening, she realized that he had been right. For example, someone tampered with Ed’s air hose, and he barely had time to rush to a safe room to gasp for air. If Ed complained, he could lose his badge, which would mean losing his job, going bankrupt, and then inability to work in a federal job again.
Ed eventually began reporting the issues to Congress and the press. He had a network set up with other employees to gain more information as well. Eventually, it was found out that Ed was the one leaking information, and Hanford investigators tried to see what he was up to. The investigators would listen to Ed's phone conversations. His son even noticed a red light on the ceiling in their house, which was found to be from a listening device that one can use from outside. There was even a Bricker War Room at Hanford, in which articles were posted. After Congress found out that Ed was being tapped, they finally put their foot down and furiously addressed the issue.
Now, Ed is a bus driver, and he is content with that. Although Ed's whistle-blowing caused tension between him and his coworkers as well as his supervisors, he stuck to his beliefs. It was amazing gaining the perspective of a previous Hanford worker. It is remarkable that one man was able to get the government involved in this issue. As we can see, it can be important to stick to one’s values even in the face of losing a job. I was surprised by the magnitude of danger to workers in Hanford besides simply being exposed to radiation. The narrative also gave me more of an awareness of the extent to which the DOE will work to remain secretive. I’d like to leave you with a question. It is not intended to be rhetorical, and I would like you to consider it as objectively as possible: After learning about Ed, do you feel you can put your trust in the DOE, especially in regards to their accountability and honesty in the clean-up of Hanford?

This post was written by Nazila Dabestani, a Medical Anthropology and Global Health Senior at University of Washington affiliated with Heart of America Northwest.

19 November 2010

Using Visual Media to Raise Awareness: Putting a face to the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site and its Environmental Health Impacts

Dr. Holly Barker, a visiting lecturer at the University of Washington, Seattle campus, is currently facilitating an undergraduate course centered on the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site. For ten weeks, forty students are researching the issue, listening to various perspectives in class and getting out into the community to raise awareness.

On Friday, November 12th, we had a special guest, Mike McCormick, who hosts "Mind Over Matters" on Saturdays & Sundays from 6 to 9pm on KEXP. He is also involved with Public Affairs matters for KEXP and expressed interest in helping students with their outreach efforts.

Students also presented a collaborative music project, which will be part of the 30 minute segment students are putting together for a special radio show on KEXP.

The Hanford interviews presented by Mike were extremely profound. The clip that impacted me the most is featured below. Watch it! He does a masterful job of capturing the human dimension of Hanford and its far reaching impacts on the community.

Written by Jacinta Heath, a University of Washington student focusing on environmental justice issues and the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site

Click here for Mike McCormick, "TalkingStickTV" Channel on YouTube to find more interviews.

18 November 2010

The Latest on What's Underneath Hanford: 10X the Legal Dose of Radiation

Thankfully, Heart of America Northwest led efforts to shut down building 324 and have it cleaned out and removed. As late as 2008, nuclear industry backers and USDOE proposed using the 324 Building for “reprocessing” High-Level Nuclear Waste. In the late 1990s and until 2001, USDOE was promoting use of 324 Building in support of the restart of the FFTF Nuclear Reactor, and again we led opposition pointing to past contamination and risk from Building 324. However, we never expected that leaks to soil were at levels more than ten times the level which will kill every individual in an hour.

In the early 1990s this building and all others in Hanford’s 300 Area dumped their untreated liquid wastes out a sewer line into a long ditch paralleling the Columbia River 800 feet away. The high radiation is apparently due to leaks from the sump for the sewer in Building 324. Heart of America Northwest successfully sued and organized to close the sewer and end dumping of untreated liquid wastes. Sadly, Washington Ecology and EPA sided with USDOE back then, and actually opposed our efforts to shut down the dumping of untreated liquid wastes.

Now, the question is how could USDOE have promoted use of the building for years without knowing about radiation levels so high in the soil under the building that they would kill in minutes??? What is needed Now: an emergency cleanup effort is needed due to proximity to the River and public, and an investigation as to how this was ignored or not found for years. This is going to be very expensive because of the incredible risk from the gamma radiation, and shielding needed. However, this comes at a time when Congressional pressure and the President’s announced response is to cut Hanford Clean-Up budgets in 2012. The waste should not be disposed at Hanford in landfills, it is so hot it should be treated as High-Level Waste, which is what it originated as.
- Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest


Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Highly contaminated soil found at Hanford
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

HANFORD — Workers have found a nasty surprise beneath a Hanford building just north of Richland -- highly contaminated soil from an undiscovered leak.

"This is extremely high radiation. Nothing else compares in the river corridor," said Mark French, Department of Energy project director for environmental cleanup in the river corridor, the 75 square miles of Hanford along the Columbia River.
Radioactivity has been measured at 8,900 rad per hour, which would be about 10 times the lethal dose on contact, according to Hanford officials. The building where the leak was found is about 1,000 feet from the Columbia River.

Read more from the Tri-City Herald here

07 November 2010

Radioactive Rabbit Killed at Hanford... Elmer Fudd at work

Where’s Elmer Fudd when we need him??? This story on another radioactive rabbit at Hanford has made news across the US. Heart of America Northwest notes: Radioactive Rabbit killed at Hanford was near town and the Columbia River… It is not likely that it was the only one or that it didn’t move over a wide area. It’s hardly the first, and won’t be the last. Heart of America Northwest has two concerns:
1) There’s a significant source of radioactive contamination in the vicinity which may be running into the Columbia via groundwater, or exposing birds (including owls and hawks which eat rabbits), and blowing into the air.
2) This is a warning about USDOE’s unwillingness to plan to remove wastes from 44 miles of unlined radioactive waste burial grounds and many more miles of ditches into which USDOE dumped liquid wastes. Picture three lanes of interstate highway running 44 miles. Now picture this is a ditch with waste fifty feet deep, and then try to justify never cleaning it up. Leaving waste will expose future generations to unacceptably high radiation risks – especially the Tribes who want to exercise their treaty rights to use Hanford’s resources (e.g.,fish,hunt gather plants).

Radioactive rabbit trapped, killed at Hanford
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS November 5, 2010 (Seattle times, Seattle P-I.com)
RICHLAND, Wash. -- A radioactive rabbit was trapped on the Hanford nuclear reservation, but there is no sign any people were exposed to the animal.
Washington state Health Department workers with the Office of Radiation Protection have been searching for contaminated rabbit droppings. None have been found in areas accessible to the public, regional director Earl Fordham said Thursday.
Officials suspect the rabbit sipped some water left from the recent demolition of a Cold War-era building used in the production of nuclear weapons, the Tri-City Herald reported Friday.
Contaminated animals occasionally are found at the nuclear reservation, but more often they are in the center of Hanford, far from town.
The rabbit trapped at the 300 Area caught the Health Department's attention because it was close enough to the site's boundaries to potentially come in contact with people - if it had been caught by a dog or if its droppings were deposited in an area open to the public.
Workers first found contaminated rabbit droppings last week in the 300 Area, said Todd Nelson, spokesman for Washington Closure Hanford, the Department of Energy contractor cleaning up Hanford.
Several rabbits were trapped and the one was found to be highly contaminated with radioactive cesium. It was killed and disposed as radioactive waste, he said Friday. Routine monitoring for radioactive droppings continues.

Read the rest of the article

10 August 2010

Hot news: We file suit to overturn USDOE's decision to use Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump!

Story running in the Tri-City Herald: "Heart of America files suit over sending waste to Hanford."

This week, Heart of America Northwest filed suit in federal court to stop the use of Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump. The United States Department of Energy continues plans to import and bury 3 million cubic feet of radioactive and toxic wastes from nuclear weapons and energy facilities in landfills near the Columbia River at Hanford, despite their own study showing that this action will contaminate the Columbia River and result in numerous cancer deaths over the next hundred years (and even through ten thousand years).

Thousands of truckloads of radioactive waste would go through Portland, Spokane and other communitites. Studies show that transporting radioactive waste can also cause fatal cancers in communities along the routes, even if there are no accidents.

We filed the suit because Washington State has not barred the United States Department of Energy (USDOE) from dumping more waste at Hanford in the Hanford Cleanup Agreement (aka Tri-Party Agreement) and/or in state permits.

We have also found that Washington State allowed USDOE to open a landfill for radioactive and toxic chemical wastes in the 1990's without a permit or public hearings.

Earlier in 2010, we led the effort to turn out hundreds of people in Washington and Oregon to comment on USDOE's new environmental impact statement. In the document, USDOE's own analysis of their plan to import 3 million cubic feet of waste shows cancer risks exceeding 10% for people who would use the Columbia River or Hanford's groundwater as drinking water in the future.

Despite this harrowing revelation, USDOE refused to withdraw the 2004 decision designating Hanford to receive these wastes, so we are forced to go to court.

In July, the New York Times quoted us in an article highlighting Robert Alvarez's study documenting that there is almost three times more Plutonium in the soil at Hanford than USDOE previously estimated.

Our lawsuit comes at a time when USDOE proposes dumping more waste instead of removing and cleaning up the wastes already at Hanford - in leaking, unlined landfills and ditches.

***
Please contact the Governor of Oregon and/or Washington and urge them to join us in suing USDOE to stop their plans to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump.

***
HUGE thank you's to our Seattle University and University of Washington Law School externs Jessica Dales, Adam Woodford, Alec Osenbach, Abe Kaul; and Gonzaga University School of Law Environmental Law Clinic Director Mike Chappell and extern Sarah Minkler for all of their hard work on the suit!

22 July 2010

Hanford and Yucca Mountain add heat to the Senate race

Elections are drawing near, and the competition is radioactive. Washington incumbent Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi are going head to head over nuclear waste - each focusing on proving that they support reopening Yucca Mountain more.

But beyond the political issue, we at HOANW see problems with reopening Yucca, the Nevada nuclear waste repository recently put on hold by the Obama administration.

Believe me, it's hard to even extend beyond the political issue. Obama supports Nevada senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for whom the closure of a nuclear repository within his state would be a big boost to his election campaign. Washington State politicians seem to be following an Anywhere-But-Hanford mindset, appealing to our citizens by saying "Not In Our Backyard" -- but they simultaneously ignore key facts that should influence this highly crucial process.

We have a predominant issue with Yucca Mountain: the U.S. Department of Energy would be permitted to dramatically lower health standards to levels below the national requirements. If allowed there, the same policies could be applied at Hanford in the future. At Yucca, this would create a harmful excess that would extend 18 km around the repository, leaving waste levels that the EPA and NRC predict are high enough to cause fatal cancer in over 3 out of 10,000 exposed adults (the national standards are set at 1 out of 10,000).

The precedent that continuing Yucca Mountain sets does not bode well for our Hanford Nuclear Waste Site. Groundwater, drinking water, and cancer-causing agent standards exist for a reason, and permitting the USDOE to make exceptions harms all affected communities.

Yucca, like Hanford, is near farms and families. It lies only 12 miles away from Amargosa Valley, a farming community that provides milk across the entire southwest.

Also like Hanford, the federal decision at Yucca will affect Native Americans whose land in the area is protected by national treaties. The Western Shoshone Nation is protected by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, and violating this protection would put this community at enormous risk from exposure to nuclear waste.

Whether or not Yucca Mountain opens, its capacity would not be large enough to accomodate all of Hanford's wastes intended for a deep geologic repository. "Most of Hanford's High-Level Nuclear Waste has never been planned to go to Yucca Mountain," our executive director Gerry Pollet says. After the opening of Hanford's vitrification plant, 90% of the vitrified waste is planned to stay at Hanford, while the remaining 10% will require a whole new repository, as Yucca Mountain's capacity will by then be fully filled.

Cleanup needs to happen. But cleanup needs to happen without sacrificing health standards, Native American treaties, and food safety regulation.

The senators have invited nuclear waste into their electoral competition, and it certainly is a hot spot guaranteed to reel in votes. But we hope Washingtonians will consider the broader scope, and urge politicians to acknowledge the more complicated factors that should be affecting their decisions.

14 July 2010

Gerry Pollet to Testify for Blue Ribbon Commission Today!

We are excited to see the testimonial of our own executive director, Gerry Pollet, who has been a passionate and indefatigable leader in Hanford cleanup, before President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission today at 4:20 PST.

President Obama has sought to close Yucca Mountain, the Nevada repository constructed for importing waste from Hanford and other nuclear waste sites. Today, his team visits Hanford, WA, to examine the nuclear waste area and consider the opinions of Hanford experts in their decision.

The commission is interested in exploring alternatives to the Yucca Mountain repository.

Mr. Pollet will present to the commission several key concerns over Hanford's capacity, waste disposal, and detriments of reprocessing this afternoon.

He will explain that the vitrification plant, which would combine waste and glass to form a more easily stored solid, would produce more than could be stored at Yucca Mountain even if it were to open according to schedule. As such, Hanford needs long-term, on-site storage for vitrified products.

Mr. Pollet will explain that this will be needed regardless of Yucca Mountain's status, due to the large quantities of vitrified waste which Hanford would not be able to currently accomodate without increased health and environmental detriment.

Mr. Pollet will also address the concerns over the vitrification plant's capacity. Slated to open in 2019, the plant is currently $8 billion over budget. The capacity will handle only 50% of the 54 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste.
The Department of Energy recommends vitrifying Low Activity Waste as well; this will create releases that will exceed health and water standards of the Columbia River.

Mr. Pollet will emphasize that the capacity of Hanford land to withhold nuclear waste has already been overwhelmed, and contains pre-1970 waste with no plan for removal. He will point out the counterproductive practice of the USDOE's self-regulation, which prevents accurate and effective decisionmaking in regards to waste disposal.

Finally, he will discuss how reprocessing in fact creates enormous quantities of nuclear waste. It created the  54 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste currently sitting in Hanford tanks, with no plan of action for disposal, and will only create more hazardous material if it is chosen as a plan of action.

Check out Gerry's speech this afternoon at 4:20 p.m. P.S.T.! His presentation hopefully will influence the decision of the presidential blue ribbon commission and help Hanford get the "Clean Up First" treatment that we support.

12 July 2010

Coverage of Hanford and Heart of America Northwest in the New York Times!
This weekend, a Sunday article in the New York Times quoted Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest's Executive Director, on the Department of Energy's dramatic underestimates of the amount of plutonium in wastes at Hanford. Read the whole article: "A New Analysis Triples U.S. Plutonium Waste Figures.

Today (July 12, 2010) the Times' "Green Blog" covered Gerry's upcoming testimony to President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future on July 14th:

A Watchdog’s Warning on Nuclear Waste

The entrance to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. A commission opens hearings this week aimed at identifying alternative sites or methods for disposing of nuclear waste.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The entrance to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. A commission opens hearings this week aimed at identifying alternative sites or methods for disposing of the nation’s nuclear waste.
When President Obama said he wanted to discontinue work to develop a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, one of the entities that filed suit to protect the project was Washington State, where vast amounts of nuclear waste accumulated at the Hanford nuclear reservation, a weapons site. As I reported on Sunday, a new report suggests that Hanford has a lot more plutonium waste that the Energy Department had acknowledged.

This week, a blue-ribbon commission on nuclear waste established to seek alternatives to Yucca will hold two days of hearings near Hanford. And one of the experts giving testimony will be Gerry Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest, which describes itself as a watchdog group focused on Hanford.

Mr. Pollet’s prepared testimony argues that Hanford has deeper problems than the possible demise of Yucca Mountain. Even if Yucca had opened as planned 10 years ago, it would not have enough space for all of Hanford’s wastes, he argues. The Energy Department is trying to build a factory at Yucca that will take liquid wastes and mix them with molten glass to produce a solid, as a factory at another bomb plant in South Carolina is already doing. But at the moment, there is no final resting place for these “vitrified” wastes.

“Long-term on-site storage capacity for vitrified wastes has always been needed, along with a second deep geologic repository for high-level nuclear wastes,’’ his prepared testimony says.

Heart of America’s main argument is that wastes already buried or dumped at Hanford will, by the government’s own projections, begin turning up in the Columbia River or in underground water supplies at levels hundreds of times higher than drinking water standards in centuries and millenniums to come, and that with no plan in place to clean up that material, the department should not bury any more.

But the group had a message more relevant to the blue-ribbon commission. The panel is studying whether the volume of used reactor fuel could be reduced and the longevity of its radioactive materials cut, by reprocessing it – that is, running it through chemical processes to retrieve materials that could be put into new reactors as fuel.

Heart of America’s argument is that the activity that produced the Hanford wastes was quite similar to this, with uranium from reactors chopped up to retrieve the plutonium created as a side-effect of nuclear fission. The lesson, Mr. Pollet warns, is that “reprocessing creates vast amounts of liquid high-level nuclear wastes.’’

09 July 2010

The next comment period...

Any given day of the year, there's usually at least one aspect of Hanford cleanup that the public can chime in on, which is one of the reasons why we're so busy at HOANW!

Through July 22, you can submit your comments on the proposed extension to an apatite barrier along the Columbia River (in Hanford's 100-N area) to reduce the flow of Strontium-90 into the River. Generally, we think this is a good idea, but we have a few concerns. Check out our new factsheet for more information, and submit your comments to 100NRPP@rl.gov by July 22nd!
Strontium-90 (a radioactive fission product) contamination of the groundwater at Hanford's 100-N area along the Columbia River. The federal Drinking Water Standard for Strontium-90 is 8 pCi/L, and the area shaded red is over 1,000 times the standard. Image from the 2008 Hanford Site Groundwater Monitoring Report

28 June 2010

Video of Seattle Workshop!


Thanks to Mike McCormick of KEXP for taping the public workshop at the University Heights Community Center last Thursday, June 24th. Representatives from the Department of Energy, Washington Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency and the public discussed the new geographic approach to cleanup on Hanford's Central Plateau; delays to retrieving Transuranic (i.e. plutonium contaminated) waste at Hanford; and who should draft decision documents for how cleanup is done.

The public comment period on these changes and delays ends on Wednesday, June 30th! For more background information, visit www.hoanw.org. Email your comments to TPACH@rl.gov.

21 June 2010

Public workshops on the Hanford Cleanup Agreement in Portland and Seattle this week!

Portland
Wednesday, June 23rd; 7-9pm
Portland State University Student Union, Rooms 327-328
1825  SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97207
DOE will provide parking vouchers for on-campus parking

Seattle
Thursday, June 24th; 7-9pm
University Heights Community Center, Room 209
5031 University Way NE, Seattle WA 98105
Free parking in the lot at the Center

Please join us at our offices for a brief open house immediately preceding the Seattle workshop!  Our offices are just 4 blocks from the U Heights Center, located at 1314 NE 56th St, Suite 100.  We'll have food and beverages from 5:45-6:30pm, and we hope to see you!

For background on each of the agenda items to be covered at the workshops, review Heart of America Northwest's briefing booklet by downloading it from our website.  We'll have copies at both workshops!


15 June 2010

Hanford's Vitrification Plant at a Pivot Point

The Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman, visited Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant yesterday.  The Waste Treatment Plant, also called the vitrification plant, or the "vit" plant for short, is a massive public works project on the Hanford Site which will turn the 53 million gallons of High-Level Nuclear Waste into glass.  The vitrification process does not reduce radioactivity, but it converts the liquid/sludge waste into glass logs, which are more stable in the environment.

The vitrification plant project, historically, has been fraught with budget and design issues and delays. Below you can view a 60 Minutes expose of some of the design issues from a few years ago:



Thankfully, many of the technical issues previously identified have been resolved.  One outstanding issue remains - a technical issue with designing equipment for mixing the wastes, reports Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.  Department of Energy Headquarters recently has taken more interest in oversight of the project, exemplified by Poneman's visit this week and the appointment of a new federal project manager earlier this spring.

For more information about technical and budget issues with the Waste Treatment Plant, read the Government Accountability Office's 2006 congressional testimony (pdf).  Here's a graph from the testimony of the ballooning budget as of 2006.  The budget is now $12.2 billion:

Completing the Waste Treatment Plant on a reasonable schedule (the most recent delays pushed back the "hot-start" date to 2019), maintaining its budget, and ensuring that it will function as planned are all in the public's interest to protect the environment and human health.  The High-Level Nuclear Waste, currently stored in underground tanks which have leaked over one million gallons, is one of Hanford's greatest threats to the environment and public health, and the Waste Treatment Plant is the major effort to address these wastes.  The Department of Energy has acknowledged this, and Poneman reiterated this yesterday, saying, "This project is really important to the nation. It's really important to the department. It is really important to the secretary.  We are committed to fulfilling our obligations to the state."

14 June 2010

Report Recommends Moving Forward, but Identifies a Number of Weaknesses in Beryllium Program

The report released June 2nd detailed a 4-month investigation into Hanford's program to address the health problems caused by beryllium. The metal is found residually in buildings, left over from the days when Hanford produced nuclear materials for the Manhattan Project, and causes serious health injuries such as chronic beryllium disease. Workers exposed to beryllium can develop a sensitivity to the metal, which restricts where they can work and, out of medical necessity, can force them out of jobs they may have held successfully for many years.

The report found that many buildings were inadequately marked with beryllium content, leaving workers in danger of inhaling contaminants without their knowledge. The program often failed to address changes in beryllium levels, which can occur as the dust is easily disturbed. Further flaws included insufficient medical attention for workers and a lack of diagnoses of new illnesses, two factors which inhibit efforts to understand the disease and the ability to adapt policies and treatment with this knowledge. Also, the report noted a breakdown of communication across the site that prevented standardized assessment of beryllium levels.

U.S. Department of Energy's Ines Triay emphasizes commitment to improvement and the dedication to "make sure our corrective actions not only are robust but they stay the course."

The report's provisions for the future included setting detailed standards for beryllium levels and contamination and requiring increased attention to fluctuations that can easily occur in these levels. It paid specific attention to medical treatment, urging increased analysis of new cases in order to assess and improve the protection program.

Heart of American Northwest supports the USDOE report's specific recommendations for the future and its function as a step towards increased transparency. We see the clarity and availability of the investigation as important in opening up communication. If we and the public commit to supporting change we believe we can improve the health standards for workers as part of our dedication to making Hanford a safe and rehabilitated place.

To hear KPLU's Anna King's report on chronic beryllium disease, click http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kplu/news.newsmain/article/0/1/1658583/KPLU.Local.News/Hanford.Officials.Criticized.for.Lack.of.Focus.on.Beryllium

To read the full USDOE inspection report on the Hanford beryllium program, click
http://www.hss.doe.gov/indepoversight/reports/eshevals/2010/2010_Hanford_Beryllium_Reportv3_(final)_(June%202010).pdf

To read our other posts on the beryllium program and investigation at Hanford, follow
http://hoanw.blogspot.com/2010/02/chronic-beryllium-disease-rates.html
http://hoanw.blogspot.com/2010/02/update-on-hanford-beryllium-program.html

02 June 2010

Hanford Beryllium Exposure Investigation Released Today

Affected Workers and Advocates Will Respond To Issuance of Report
Immediately Following Official Briefing
Outside Courtyard
Wednesday June 2, 2010
Official report release briefing begins at 3 PM
WSU- Tri-Cities CIC

On Wednesday June 2nd at 3 PM, the federal Energy Department (USDOE) will release the report of its four month independent investigation into worker exposure to beryllium at Hanford.

Dozens of Hanford workers exposed to beryllium have developed beryllium disease or “sensitization” leading to the incurable lung disease, which can be fatal. Very small amounts of beryllium dust, which is easily disturbed, can lead to sensitization and debilitating beryllium disease.

The independent investigation was ordered by senior USDOE officials after affected workers, the cleanup watchdog group, Heart of America Northwest, and the Hanford Advisory Board repeatedly raised concerns that Hanford managers and contractors had failed to prevent additional exposures and implement the recommendations from two prior formal reviews dating back to 2002.

Affected workers and Heart of America Northwest will respond to the report’s findings with a media availability in the courtyard outside CIC (River side) (and immediately inside if raining) immediately following the end of the official briefing by senior Energy Department officials Assistant Secretary of Energy Dr. Ines Triay and Glenn Podonsky, Director of USDOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security.

In 2002, an independent review of exposures to beryllium and the Hanford site’s medical program for beryllium was issued with extensive recommendations by the Hanford Joint Council for Employee Concerns. Hanford site management pledged to implement recommendations to prevent additional exposures and to provide appropriate medical support to affected workers. Those recommendations, however, were never implemented.

In 2004, acting on behalf of potentially exposed workers, Heart of America Northwest filed a petition for an investigation and a “stop work” order regarding work at Hanford facilities with the potential to cause exposure to beryllium. An independent review of the concerns found many were substantiated and a violation of the rules designed to prevent exposures and protect workers. Recommendations from that report were never implemented.

A new beryllium control program was to be implemented, under the rules, by August, 2009. However, USDOE management gave contractors an extension until January, 2010. In January, the program was still not implemented. Heart of America Northwest’s review of the new program on behalf of concerned workers found that the new program would continue to fail to meet legal requirements for protecting workers and ensuring that they have medical “removal” after sensitization.

Areas of concern include:
  • Declaring facilities “beryllium free” based on inadequate characterization – leading to the likely exposure and disease in additional workers;
    • Fluor Hanford Corp. characterized beryllium contamination in buildings using a minimum detection limit for beryllium dust which was two and a half times higher than the “action level” set in USDOE’s rule to protect workers from exposure;
    • Continued inadequacies in testing for beryllium dust and declaring that workers could be in portions of facilities without respiratory protection while other areas of the same buildings have beryllium dust in areas where work was likely to be disturbing the dust.
  • Procedures requiring workers to return to work in buildings where they faced the potential for additional exposure after being diagnosed as sensitized – in violation of the federal rule.
  • Failure to provide the required medical support for workers with beryllium disease;
  • Failure to track where workers were exposed and to use that information to characterize and prevent exposures, and to warn other workers in those buildings of the need to be tested;
  • Requiring repeated medical exams challenging workers compensation claims after sick workers had already been diagnosed by the nation’s leading medical experts in beryllium.


Hanford management failed to respond to findings that practices did not comply with federal law standards and were likely to be causing additional beryllium exposures. To protect the health of workers and provide the medical support for the exposed workers,” says Gerry Pollet, Executive Director of Heart of America Northwest, “solutions must include new independent oversight with authority – including the ability to penalize contractors – to implement the latest report on a firm timeline.” Heart of America Northwest also believes that the report referred to the US Attorney for review. “The Assistant Secretary of Energy and the Office of Health, Safety and security have responded forcefully and with excellent transparency to start this investigation and in how it has been carried out.”

For Info:
Gerry Pollet, J.D., Executive Director,
Heart of America Northwest
“The Public’s Voice for Hanford Clean-Up”
 206)382-1014 office

27 May 2010

Participate!

Hey! We've got a list of 5 easy ways to get involved in Hanford Cleanup over on our website that you should check out!

And Portlanders, we hope to see you at the PROTECT PORTLAND FROM HANFORD concert tomorrow night, featuring Dana Lyons! The concert's at 7pm at the First Unitarian Church on SW 12th & Salmon; suggested donation is $10; all proceeds benefit Heart of America Northwest and Alliance for Democracy, Portland Chapter.



26 May 2010

Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission to see Hanford first-hand


The Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste announced this morning that it plans to visit Hanford July 14 and 15.

The commission was formed at President Barack Obama’s order to recommend what the nation should do with spent commercial nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste from weapons production, including Hanford’s high level waste.

The waste was expected to go to the planned repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., but Obama has opposed opening the repository and the commission has been instructed not to consider Yucca Mountain.

The panel stressed this morning that it is not a siting commission and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., echoed that.

“This will not be an audition for making Hanford a permanent repository for nuclear waste,” she said in a statement.

The panel wants to visit Hanford to meet with a diverse group of people who have long dealt with radioactive waste issues technically, socially and politically, said a commission spokesman.

“While the commission will not be looking at specific repository sites, I am disappointed the Obama administration has dismissed out of hand any discussion of Yucca Mountain and I have made clear I will fight any attempt to make Hanford the site for a permanent repository,” she said.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., called the planned visit “a political endeavor.”

“The Blue Ribbon Commission was formed so that President Obama could terminate Yucca Mountain without having to answer the question of what next,” he said in a statement.

Even though the commission has said it is not a site selection committee, Yucca Mountain has been arbitrarily taken off the table, he said.

“Consequently we are left to assume that everything else is on the table,” he said."

17 May 2010

Your chance to learn about the changes and delays to the Hanford Cleanup Agreement

IT'S A WEBINAR!

What's the deal with the Energy Department scheduling to remove waste from Hanford 5 years after the repository it's destined for in New Mexico has started shutting down?

Heart of America Northwest is hosting a webinar to bring you up to speed on this & other issues with the proposed changes and delays to the Hanford Cleanup Agreement.

Please call in to prepare for the upcoming workshops in Seattle & Portland (mid-June); if you don't live in one of these areas, this webinar is your only chance to learn about these issues.

JOIN US: 
Tuesday, May 25th, 7pm (PDT)
Dial Toll-Free 1.877.216.1555, passcode: 1040811

download the slides in advance: email Lisa@hoanw.org or check www.hoanw.org

14 May 2010

A busy week for Heart of America Northwest

Another busy week at the Heart of America Northwest offices comes to a close.  Here's what we've been up to:
  • We put the final touches on our comments to the Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement - check it out!  They cover everything from climate change to transportation risks;
  • We're planning a fun benefit concert in Portland on May 28th with internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Dana Lyons!  The show starts at 7pm at the First Unitarian Church, and we'd love to see you there;
  • We hung out with Bob Alvarez last night, heard some of his interesting stories and talked about Transuranic Waste - what a good time!

05 May 2010

Comment on Changes & Delays to the Hanford Cleanup Agreement

 
Here's Heart of America Northwest's Fact Sheet on the issues (follow link to download pdf).  The comment period runs May 3 - June 17th!  Email your comments today to TPACH@rl.gov.

04 May 2010

Portland's Mayor Adams' Comments on the Hanford EIS

Office of Mayor Sam Adams
City of Portland
Mary Beth Burandt
DOE Draft TC&WM EIS Comments
TC&WMEIS@saic.com
May 3, 2010

Dear Ms. Burandt,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Hanford Tank Farm Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Hanford is the world’s largest and most complex environmental cleanup project, so I appreciate the complexity of the task ahead of the USDOE in proposing actions to clean up this facility.

It has come to my attention that a number of the recommended alternatives in this draft EIS pose serious threats to regional human and environmental health. While the City of Portland is not qualified to comment on the selection of one particular alternative over another in the draft EIS, we ultimately support the alternative that is most protective over the long term of the Columbia River. Portland sits at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, the health of which are vital to the success of this city. I am troubled that the USDOE’s preferred alternatives do not reflect this perspective.

In addition to the downstream impacts of the quality of on-site mitigation and clean-up activity at Hanford, I am significantly dismayed by Section 2.3, Waste Management Alternatives of the EIS and the USDOE’s preferred Waste Management Alternative of Alternative 2, which allows the retrieval of off-site waste for storage at Hanford.

Receipt of off-site waste at Hanford, especially if it contains (as would be expected) mobile long-lived radioactive materials, such as technetium 99 or iodine 129, is projected to have significant adverse long-term impacts on the groundwater, which ultimately impacts the Columbia River. Moreover, the transfer of nuclear waste through Oregon on its way to Hanford poses an unacceptable risk to the health of Portland citizens.

Assuming no accidents, the USDOE itself estimated 816 cancer deaths to residents along the route, and to people in traffic near the trucks, from a similar proposal in 2008. That estimate is based on radiation doses for an adult male and does not account for the possibility of traffic accidents, leakages, or acts of terror along the transfer route.

The City of Portland adamantly opposes the USDOE’s selection of Alternative 2 of the Waste Management Alternatives as the preferred alternative in this EIS. Given that there are alreadymany barriers to quickly and adequately cleaning up the existing nuclear waste at Hanford, it is plainly unacceptable to consider importing additional nuclear waste, even temporarily, from outside of the Hanford site. Furthermore, the actual transportation of that waste by river, rail, or road through Portland would be an unacceptable risk to the City.

We recognize that the treatment of nuclear waste is a regional and national issue that requires the collaboration of all levels of government to develop practical and safe solutions. In objecting to the transport of nuclear waste through this region, I offer this city’s support in developing a plan ror the on-site treatment of nuclear waste to either mitigate the health risks of the waste in transport or to eliminate the need for transport altogether. Treating nuclear waste on-site is the best opportunity for our communities to avoid further health and environmental impacts from waste produced from regional, decommissioned nuclear facilities.

The City of Portland, in solidarity with the City of Spokane, Washington, urges the USDOE to follow through on the agency’s fourth strategic theme: Environmental Responsibility:
Protecting the environment by providing a responsible resolution to the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production.

The Portland City Council opposes the transportation of massive amounts of nuclear waste through our region and supports the alternatives in the Hanford Tank Farm Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement which are most protective of the long-term health of the Columbia River.

Sincerely,
Sam Adams, Mayor
City of Portland

30 April 2010

News Coverage of our letter to Secretary Chu in the Tri-City Herald!

Groups demand DOE end plans to send waste to Hanford

Article by Annette Cary, Herald staff writer


A coalition of Northwest environmental groups is demanding that Energy Secretary Steven Chu end any plans to import radioactive waste to Hanford.

The Department of Energy agreed as part of a proposed settlement with the state of Washington not to send most types of radioactive waste to Hanford for disposal until the vitrification plant is in full operation to treat the worst waste now stored in underground tanks. That's scheduled for 2022.

The coalition is asking Chu to issue a formal decision that DOE not add more waste to Hanford and conduct a new environmental study if DOE revisits the issue after 2022. 

"Citizens of the Pacific Northwest will not tolerate off-site waste exacerbating Hanford's existing threats to the Columbia River and people of the Northwest," said the letter signed by leaders of Columbia Riverkeeper and Heart of America Northwest. It also listed 19 other organizations.

A new 6,000-page draft environmental study -- the Hanford Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement -- shows that importing radioactive waste for disposal at Hanford would significantly increase pollution in ground water beneath the nuclear reservation.

Under some scenarios that appear likely, the amount of certain long-lived radioactive isotopes that would be imported and buried at Hanford would account for as much as 90 percent of the releases of that isotope to the environment, according to the state. Some of the worst contamination could occur 1,000 or more years from now.

The draft study prepared by DOE looks at sending 107,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste, some mixed with hazardous chemicals, to Hanford for disposal. That waste would be covered by the moratorium until about 2022.

The environmental groups want a revised draft of the study to be released that does not propose adding off-site waste to Hanford low-level and low-activity radioactive waste to be buried at Hanford landfills.
The waste at Hanford now is left from the past production there of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

DOE agreed in the study that importing waste to Hanford with specific amounts of certain radioactive isotopes, particularly iodine 129 and technetium 99, could have an adverse impact on the environment.
It suggested two alternatives: Robust treatment of imported waste such as turning it into glass before burying it at Hanford or restricting disposal of waste with those isotopes.

Additional groups signing onto the letter are the Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, the Oregon Sierra Club, Spokane Riverkeeper, Washington Chapter of Republicans for Environmental Protection, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, The Lands Council, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Oregon Toxics Alliance, Rosemere Neighborhood Association, Eastern Washington Voters, Hanford Challenge, Portland Chapter of the Alliance for Democracy, Hanford Watch, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Olympic Environmental Council and Silver Valley Community Resource Center.

29 April 2010

PRESS RELEASE

Northwest Environmental, Public Health Groups Urge Energy Secretary to Withdraw Decision to Use Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump

Over twenty leading environmental and public health groups in the Northwest sent a letter today to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, urging him to withdraw the federal Department of Energy’s decisions to use Hanford, WA, as a national radioactive waste dump. The organizations, which include Columbia Riverkeeper, Heart of America Northwest, Sierra Club and the Washington and Oregon Chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility, object to Energy’s plan to truck three million cubic feet of radioactive and toxic waste to Hanford for permanent burial. Perched on the banks of the Columbia River, Hanford is already the most contaminated site in North America.

Heart of America Northwest & Columbia Riverkeeper spearheaded this effort.  Read the entire press release here.

22 April 2010

Obligatory EARTH DAY post

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, a testament to the enduring power of grassroots environmental advocacy!  In honor of this occasion, please join Heart of America Northwest's grassroots efforts to prevent Hanford from becoming a national radioactive waste dump & protect future generations from nuclear waste.  Take action today with the future in mind.

TAKE ACTION: Comment on the Hanford "Cleanup" Plan
Many of you attended public hearings and submitted comments on the Department of Energy's plan to import 3 million cubic feet of radioactive & mixed waste to Hanford - buried in its 6,000 page Environmental Impact Statement on Hanford cleanup!  If you haven't spoken out yet, the comment period now ends on May 3, 2010, so you still have time!

It's easy to give a public comment!  Heart of America Northwest has complied resources to help you comment, including our Citizens' Guide, and you can email your comments right now to TC&WMEIS@saic.com


TAKE ACTION: Urge your Senators to keep nuclear out of the Climate Bill
Next week, the Senate Climate Bill is set to be unveiled, and a vote is expected on it sometime this summer.  Now is the time to contact your Senators and urge them to not support the billions in subsidies for nuclear power expected to be included in the bill.  Nuclear Information and Resource Service has provided an easy format for contacting your Senator - take action right now!

A special note for our friends in Washington State: Senators Murray & Cantwell are on the top tier target list for this special effort.  If any state's Senators should lead the fight against nuclear power and reprocessing, it's ours, based on the lessons to be learned from Hanford. Please take a minute today to contact Senator Murray & Senator Cantwell.

Oregonians can thank Senators Wyden & Merkley for opposing nuclear subsidies and reprocessing.

Environmental activism has changed dramatically over the last four decades; now a lot of organizing efforts are done simply by sitting at a computer.  So, after you send a few emails today, go outside and remember what it's all about.

19 April 2010

So who's in charge of Hanford's vitrification plant?

[vit-ri-fy (v): to change or make into glass or a glassy substance, especially through heat fusion]

If you've paid attention to Hanford issues for any amount of time, you're probably aware of the largest public works construction project in the United States that is currently progressing on site: the Waste Treatment Plant (aka the vitrification plant). The project has been fraught with delays, design issues and is billions of dollars over its original budget.

Last week, multiple news stories reported that the manager of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of River Protection at Hanford was no longer to oversee the construction of the vitrification plant. Shirley Olinger, as the manager of the Office of River Protection, had been in charge of overseeing the vitrification plant project since 2007.

A US Department of Energy (DOE) memo shifted the project to the DOE Headquarters in Washington, D.C. According to Annette Cary at the Tri-City Herald, "The federal project director for the vit plant at Hanford, Guy Girard, now will report to Dae Chung, DOE principal deputy assistant secretary for environmental management, according to a March 31 internal DOE memo." A DOE construction project review in August 2009 hinted that organizational changes were in the works in regard to Hanford's vit plant.

However, last Friday, April 16th, a second memo and organizational chart was released showing that Girard, the federal project director, is still to report to Olinger, the Office of River Protection manager. Yet, ties to DOE Headquarters in DC have been significantly strengthened; again, the Tri-City Herald reports, "A full-time program manager for the vit plant has been named for DOE headquarters. In that position, Ken Picha will oversee modification of the budget and evaluate program performance, among other responsibilities."

So why does any of this matter? The vitrification plant is designed to stabilize Hanford's nastiest High-Level Nuclear Wastes by mixing them with molten glass and storing them in steel canisters. It is widely accepted that vitrifying these wastes is the most protective action for the environment and human health. Construction of the vitrification plant was originally supposed to be completed next year, by 2011, but the time line has been delayed until at least 2019, with full operations commencing in 2022. Because this project has a long history of mismanagement of funds and resources (long before Olinger was put in charge), Heart of America Northwest has repeatedly advocated for increased accountability to finish on time and without wasting taxpayer dollars.

01 April 2010

New Central Hanford Cleanup Deadlines

The Tri-Party Agreement, the legally binding agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology & the Environmental Protection Agency that dictates Hanford cleanup, is undergoing yet some more changes. An article in today's Tri-City Herald, "DOE may face new central Hanford cleanup deadlines," outlines the basics of the changes.

The proposed changes include tighter deadlines for USDOE to cleanup contaminated groundwater in central Hanford, an area called the Central Plateau to those familiar with Hanford lingo. As a trade off, USDOE would have a longer schedule for completing remediation of the contaminated soil ("vadose zone") in the Central Plateau.

The Central Plateau (the tan area on the map to the left) is where the High-Level Nuclear Waste tank farms are located. The cleanup & closure of the tank farms is proposed in the draft Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement (TC & WM EIS), which is still out for public comment until May 3, 2010. However, at the public hearings on the TC & WM EIS, the Department of Energy representatives were adamant that USDOE would not be cleaning up the deep vadose zone under the tanks, which is highly contaminated.

The new milestones for the Central Plateau, however, allow time for USDOE to conduct research and investigate new technologies on how to clean up the contaminated soil before it recontaminates the groundwater. It just goes to show that there's a big difference between the Environmental Protection Agency stating that it's possible & they just need time and USDOE claiming that there's no way and they're not even going to try.

Last year, Heart of America Northwest objected to the fact that some of the changes to the Tri-Party Agreement included unenforceable "target dates" in lieu of enforceable milestones. We have the same concern about this proposal, and will review it thoroughly. We will also be debriefed on the Central Plateau plans at the Hanford Advisory Board meeting in Portland next week, so stay tuned for updates!

31 March 2010

Seattle Times Cover Story on Hanford

On Monday, March 29th, the Seattle Times cover story featured Hanford:

We encourage you to read the above article, and we were excited to see Hanford on the front page of the Times...it's been a while!

Our Field Organizer, Lisa Van Dyk, wrote a letter to the editor in response to the article that the Times chose not to publish in print or on the website.  So, we're choosing to self-publish it here:

Editor, The Times:

Thank you for printing the front page story on Hanford & Yucca Mountain.  However, the plans for and status of clean up at Hanford is a much more relevant issue for Washingtonians than the status of Yucca Mountain, as only a portion of Hanford’s High-Level Nuclear Waste would have been sent there for disposal.

The article expresses concern about Hanford receiving offsite radioactive waste as a result of Yucca Mountain’s closure, but fails to inform Washingtonians about the Department of Energy’s (DOE) current proposal that is out for public comment through May 3rd.  In the Hanford draft Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, the DOE outlines its plans to import 3 million cubic feet of radioactive & mixed radioactive/hazardous waste to Hanford, regardless of the status of Yucca Mountain.

Adding any more waste to the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere without first bringing the existing wastes into compliance with the law is unreasonable, and will greatly impact the environment and public health.  The public can comment on this plan through email (TC&WMEIS@saic.com) or U.S. Mail (TC & WM EIS, P.O. Box 1178, Richland, WA 99352).

Lisa Van Dyk, Seattle


What do you think of the Seattle Times article & this letter to the editor?  What would you have said differently?

25 March 2010

Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future meets for the first time

Today and tomorrow, in Washington, DC, President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is meeting for the first time. This Commission is expected to make recommendations within 18 months on what to do with the United States' High-Level radioactive waste. This includes Spent Nuclear Fuel from commercial power reactors, as well as some of the defense waste currently stored at sites like Hanford. In fact, Hanford bears the bulk of the nation's liquid High-Level Nuclear Waste in aging and leaking underground storage tanks. Those tanks have already leaked over a million gallons into the soil, to contaminated the groundwater and the Columbia River. So, you can see why Hanford stakeholders are invested in the outcomes of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The US has a long history of nuclear waste policy, which Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center, says has "effectively failed." The Blue Ribbon Commission, according to Hancock, presents an opportunity to "chart a path for how to start over to develop a scientifically sound, publicly acceptable program."

You can watch the Commisson's proceedings via streaming webcast if you're so inclined. If that's too much, take a minute to read up on what experts have to say: