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."