25 April 2011

Hanford Managers Report on State of Hanford Cleanup Meetings - but skip the top issues, such as public opposing use of Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump

Hanford's top Managers wrote the following guest editorial following up to 2011 State of the Hanford Cleanup Public Meetings in March.... at bottom, we respond wondering how they can ignore the public's top concerns voiced at the meetings: 1) opposing USDOE's plans to add even more wastes to Hanford and using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump... and, 2) how they failed to understand public concern in light of the Japanese reactor meltdowns about use of Hanford facilities to make dangerous Plutonium fuel for the commercial reactor at Hanford...

Tri-City Herald Sunday, Apr. 24, 2011

Community vital to Hanford cleanup

By Matt McCormick and Stacy Charboneau, Special to the Herald

During our State of the Hanford Site Cleanup meetings in March, we heard many views, concerns and suggestions, with emphasis on requesting more funding for cleanup, accelerating the pace of our work and protecting the Columbia River.

Thanks to those who attended the meetings. Continued community involvement will produce quality cleanup and helps sustain funding for this critical work.

Not surprisingly, one issue that came up at the meetings was unrelated to our environmental cleanup mission at Hanford.

Because of recent events in Japan, more people are talking about nuclear activities than they were a month ago. Interest in nuclear activities creates an opportunity for education, public discussion and debate.

That is why we would like to take this opportunity to provide context for what the Department of Energy is doing here at Hanford.

It's clear from our meetings that many people around the Northwest don't know that the commercial nuclear reactor at Hanford is owned and operated by Energy Northwest, not the Department of Energy.

Environmental consequences of Hanford's past operations are well known to most Mid-Columbia residents, but it's easy to forget the magnitude of the problem.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, Hanford produced more than half of the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. During that time, millions of cubic feet of solid waste was placed in trenches and other burial sites.

More than 50 million gallons of radioactive waste was stored in large underground tanks. About 450 billion gallons of less-contaminated liquids were discharged to the soil, creating an area of groundwater contamination in excess of 100 square miles beneath the site.

In addition, approximately 2,300 tons of leftover spent nuclear fuel was stored in water-filled pools near the Columbia River, which runs through the site.

Over the years, dozens of the large underground tanks had leaked contaminated liquids into the soil.

Today, we're engaged in cleanup of buildings, soil, debris, groundwater and liquid wastes that once were contaminated with radioactive material.

While several facilities on the site still store or contain hazardous materials, the material is monitored and configured to protect the public and the environment.

With continued proper storage and handling, the residual wastes do not pose a threat to site workers, visitors or the public.

Since cleanup began in the late 1980s, DOE and its contractors have addressed some of the most urgent environmental and public health risks. For example, 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel has been removed from storage pools near the river and placed in dry storage at the center of the site.

Twenty tons of leftover plutonium material has been stabilized and shipped out of the state. Eighty million gallons of groundwater are processed each month to remove contaminants, with more than 5 billion gallons treated to date.

Removable liquids have been retrieved from large, single-shell underground storage tanks, and a plant for treating the large volume of sludge and solid material remaining in the tanks is more than half built. The nine reactors on site that once irradiated uranium to produce plutonium have been emptied of fuel, and five have been demolished down to the shield walls surrounding the reactor cores.

Much has been done and there is more work ahead. Cleanup of the Hanford site is complex and is expected to take decades, primarily because of the amount and extent of contamination that resulted from producing plutonium -- not power -- for the United States.

The work is some of the most challenging and heavily regulated in the United States, and it hasn't always gone as planned. But workers, regulators, community members and others share a common goal to ensure safety is our No. 1 priority and that cleanup is completed safely and efficiently. We would like to build on that common ground.

We invite you stay or get involved, whether it's attending a Hanford public meeting, commenting on cleanup decisions or taking a tour of the site. Hanford is an unprecedented environmental cleanup effort. And it's in your backyard.

For more information, we invite you to visit our website at www.hanford.gov or view the first of several video chapters on Hanford at www.youtube.com/ hanfordsite.

* Matt McCormick is manager of the Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office. Stacy Charboneau is acting manager for the Office of River Protection.

RESPONSE by Gerry Pollet, Heart of America Northwest:

The number one topic brought up by the public at the 2011 Hanford Cleanup State of the Site meetings was opposition to USDOE’s plans to add even more waste to Hanford by using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump – for which USDOE has TWO separate pending proposals. This is NOT addressed at all in the follow-up guest editorial from Hanford’s two top managers.

Nor do they address the reason why the public is so concerned, in light of the Japanese reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, about the relationship between USDOE, Hanford and the commercial reactor located at Hanford.

A stated goal of the State of the Site meetings is to hold Hanford and regulator managers accountable to public concerns in an annual public forum. Heart of America Northwest worked hard to have the public come to the hearings. We urged that USDOE and regulator managers record comments and offer a written response - so that they will be accountable.

This recap of “what we heard” from Hanford’s Managers shows the need for recording comments and responding, so the official report and record is not a biased partial accounting. Person after person at the Seattle and Portland meetings told USDOE that its credibility is undermined by USDOE clinging to keep in place its 2004 decision to use Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump.

The recap is a reflection of numerous other concerns, but not the top two issues on the public’s mind at the hearings. The Op-Ed does reflect the concerns about reduced cleanup funding – without responding to numerous urgings that USDOE should restore funding priority to the retrieval and treatment of Plutonium and mixed radioactive hazardous wastes. Hanford’ Managers report on the great progress made in some areas while acknowledging decades of work lie ahead in regard to those unlined ditches and tank wastes.

However, Heart of America Northwest members and so many other people at the meetings repeatedly objected to USDOE collaborating with Energy Northwest to bring weapons usable Plutonium back to Hanford to be fabricated to make experimental, highly dangerous Plutonium fuel for the Energy NW (formerly WPPSS 2) reactor in a contaminated Hanford USDOE building in the 300 Area along the Columbia River. USDOE’s senior managers claimed they knew nothing about this scheme to have Energy Northwest be the first US commercial nuclear utility to use the same dangerous Plutonium fuel as in Reactor 3 in Fukushima – with higher temperatures and greater offsite radioactive releases than uranium fuels. Yet, the proposal is to use a USDOE Hanford facility to fabricate the Plutonium fuel and to do the dirty work assaying spent fuel – creating more wastes. The public strongly objects to shipping Plutonium back to Hanford and using Hanford facilities to make more waste in the guise of dangerous Plutonium fuel for the commercial reactor. They owe us answers! And, we will not let them ignore our concerns.