portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article portland metro

imperialism & war

Comments on the Accelerated Cleanup of the Hanford Site

tanks and put up a fence? How can a fence prevent lethal waste from ruining
our Columbia River?
tanks and put up a fence? How can a fence prevent lethal waste from ruining
our Columbia River? If you want answers to these questions, if you want to
stand up for this region and speak of what you hold dear about life in the
Pacific Northwest, please join us for the annual Hanford budget meeting--only
this time there is no budget--just plans that fly in the face of the
Tri-Party Agreement to cleanup up Hanford.

When: June 4th, Tuesday evening from 7 to 10 pm

Where: Oregon State Office Bldg, 800 NE Oregon St. near the Lloyd Center in

For more information contact HANFORD WATCH @503-232-0848 or the Oregon Office
of Energy @ 1-800-221-8035.

Comments on the Accelerated Cleanup of the Hanford Site
from Paige Knight, Hanford Watch:

This past winter, Department of Energy Headquarters issued a top to bottom review of DOE's nuclear weapons' sites cleanup responsibilities across the United States weapons' complex. Although the report touted a faster, cheaper cleanup, which of course all of us want to hear and see happen, several of the ways to get there have raised red flags.

Many of us are concerned, as we read these reports, that DOE Headquarters wants to do away with the TPA, public review and laws that may hamper them from attaining the political goal of getting something done and saving money. The public would like nothing better than to see cleanup expedited, but quality of the cleanup, the safety of the workers, environment and the public is to be the determining factor.

The risks of not cleaning up and of taking too long are serious. The report states that these risks vary, but there is no indication any risk analysis being done. We need sound programmatic and technical risk analyses.This is necessary for determining the level of cleanup. The NEPA process is seen in these reports to lack sound analysis and rational alternatives—and is seen as a time consuming and costly process. This leads many of the "stakeholders" to fear circumvention of laws such as NEPA and even RCRA, ideas that were alluded to in both the Top to Bottom Review and the Accelerated Plan of March 1st.

The 177 Hanford waste tanks are one of the highest dangers at Hanford, as most of them have reached or are nearing the end of their design life. Many have leaked; all eventually will unless the contents are emptied and vitrified. We are in the midst of a contract that is trying to defy a few odds by construction start in July as opposed to December. We are now seeing in the plans that DOE wants to try new technologies that could "compliment and replace some of the vitrification effort to save time and money. Some are ideas that have been turned down in the past because of obvious flaws such as grouting (adding cement to tank waste either in tanks or to be put in the ground at Hanford. According to earlier DOE documents grouting will not hold up under the high heat of the Hanford tank wastes. It is heartening to see more emphasis placed on new technologies for cleanup,! but we need to see the rational behind the plan and cannot afford to lose time and dollars from the current contract with Bechtel to move forward with our waste treatment facility.

Another troubling aspect of the new plan is that the DOE wants to create an $800 million dollar "slush fund" to encourage competition among the sites to change requirements to achieve goals. We see this as a direct threat to the Tri-Party Agreement and to the good working relationships among the sites as we have tried to move forward over the years on achieving cleanup for all sites. Each year, with new administration heads, the sites are pitted in battles that they have very little control over. We cannot accepting losing the goal of acceptable levels of cleanup to someone else's political agenda.We all want and deserve cleanup and guaranteed public and environmental health for us and future generations.

There are many indications about these new documents from Headquarters that Hanford is being looked at as an acceptable, preferred place to bring much of the nation's nuclear and hazardous wastes. We are being asked to plan for that when we are still not soundly on track for getting a waste treatment facility built. We are being told that we will be closing tanks as many as 5tanks (without defining what "closure" means) by 2004. The plans also indicate that much of the waste will be left in the tanks and filled with cement (grouted). This would not pass the state laws at least and is not an acceptable alternative for long-term protection of health to the people of the region. We need to know the fundamental assumptions which underlie the plan and have not been shared with the public.

We can hope that this newest vision really will improve management from the traditional mismanagement of DOE. The Accelerated Plan emphasizes the need to "strengthen business practices sounds well and good, yet the Office of River Protection is being forced to reduce its employees, who are needed for oversight of the contracts, from 129 to 109. The plan sends many mixed messages due to its lack of detail. We can hope that we save dollars and time, but we want no shortcuts that will jeopardize the health and well being of the citizens of this country. We have paid the price all too often.

We support some of the thinking and impetus behind the Accelerated Plan. It is time for better management, for efficiency and a big push forward. The question is, will this new plan help us move forward? It is up to us to have full public view and discourse in the cleanup plans so that we can stay the course.
End of Comments

This is a crucial time for river-lovers, fish-lovers, and all of us who treasure living near the Columbia to let our voices be heard. Without your voice, decisions will be made to undo the progress we are beginning to see. We have been promised a waste treatment plant, we are nearing the start of construction, and again it is beginning to look like the decisions of the recent past will hit the shredder.