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


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!