A friend and I went to an informational workshop presented by Gerry Pollet of Hearts of America Northwest (HAN) on July 30, 2002 that was held before a public meeting with Department of Energy (DOE). The officials who were presenting and receiving public comments on a DOE Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for a proposal to open a new radioactive toxic waste dump on Hanford Nuclear Reservation. I was pretty much dumbfounded when I heard about DOE plans to dump 70,000 truckloads on Hanford - I still am. |
Earlier that day, we had attended an action in front of the Mt. Hood Forestry Office held in protest of the Solo timber auction. We had heard the night before how the forestry department forced timber companies to log old growth. As the representative from Thomas Creek drove off with the winning bid and his law enforcement officials pepper sprayed the non-violent crowd we wondered who the hell needs to log old growth? I'd still like to know why we need to log old growth.
Its with that same frustrating why that we attended the workshop and public meeting on Hanford. Why the hell do they need to transport nuclear waste around the country to dump it one of the most radioactive contaminated areas in the US? My friend hit it on the head after we left the meeting - its the economy stupid. There must be money to be had for the nuclear industry in shipping waste around the country.
I'd like to explore that some other time, in the meantime we have to deal with this proposal to dump new radioactive and chemical waste in unlined trenches at Hanford.
First off, I'd like to give mega props to the public interest groups working hard to inform and engage the public with Hanford issues, especially Hanford Watch and Hearts of America Northwest. Special props to Gerry Pollet for his greatly informational workshop. His clear presentation did much to cut through the techno-jargon used by the DOE.
Second, please take a couple of minutes to ask questions and honor your frustrations with the DOE for coming up with this plan and for not informing the public about it by making yourself heard. The easiest way to do this is to email the DOE regarding this proposal at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (What a weird easy to mis-spell email address!). It is URGENT that you send comments by August 22. If you ask a question, they must answer it in the public Comment Response Document. And you can ask that a copy of the answer be sent to you as well.
Third, here are my notes. They are a little thick but I don't think they are hard to understand. If you have any questions, you can try asking here on the forum or getting in touch with me or any of the above mentioned groups, as that is why they are around. Please try and disseminate the information to other people during your normal day-to-day life.
As mentioned in an earlier article published on PDX IMC, several public interest groups along with Oregon and Washington citizens have expressed outrage at the plan to truck an estimated 70,000 truck loads of waste through Oregon to the nuclear site located in Richland, WA and to dump waste there in unlined trenches.
In addition, statements made by locally elected officials (Blumenauer, Wu, and Wyden) have also discredited the EIS. In fact, Wyden claims the DOE made a commitment to the Senate not to use unlined trenches.
Notes from the Workshop
The DOE plans to transport waste to Hanford are based on a 1997 impact study done on where to dump waste. Basing their decision on a national study that was not site specific, DOE announced in May the Hanford implementation plan along with plans of changing ground water compliance rules for the Columbia River.
So What is Waste?
The three types of radioactive waste were defined as:
- Low Level Radioactive Waste (LLW), described as being anything but spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors.
- Mixed hazardous and Low Level Waste (MLLW), described as LLW combined with other hazardous chemicals.
- Transuranic Waste (TRU), described as containing plutonium (Pu) and other elements from processing nuclear weapons.
Keep in mind that "Low Level" does not refer to the amount of radioactivity of the waste. From a HAN flyer, High-Level Waste is described as, "created from the chemical separation of uranium and plutonium from other radioactive materials. Defined by origin, not by amount of radioactivity."
Pollet noted that the EIS looks at storing LLW and MLLW at Hanford but does not mention the plan to store TRU. HAN was able to find out that the DOE plans to store TRU at Hanford through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). He mentioned that TRU waste would come to Hanford from Lawrence Livermore Labs, in California, via I-5. TRU would also arrive at the site from the Nevada Test Site, Savanna GA, and Oakridge TN by journeying through Eastern Oregon and the gorge and pass through via I-84. He mentioned the dangers of transporting the waste through snow.
NOTE: TRU is so reactive that workers cannot go near barrels of it; TRU must be remote handled.
"Don't You Want to Help the Other Sites?"
There are already 300 Nuclear Bombs worth of Pu in the ground (contaminating both the soil and groundwater) at Hanford, yet, there is no facility there to store or treat incoming TRU. Pollet mentioned the DOE claims new TRU storage at Hanford to be temporary. Pollet pointed to a young boy in attendance and said the boy's hair will be Pollet's shade of gray before the DOE's "temporary" runs out.
HAN is not only concerned with the fact that the EIS ignores the impacts of storing TRU but, more fundamentally, does not describe: the waste to be stored at Hanford, how radioactive the waste is, where the waste comes from, and does not study the real impact of storage at Hanford, the most radioactively contaminated facility in the US.
Numerous other DOE sites have illegally shipped wastes to the grounds including explosives and solvents that mobilize the radioactive constituents into the environment.
Above the Law
Changing the point of compliance for groundwater would require that a certain distance from the water will be off limits for thousands of years. This distance is not mentioned in the EIS. That means there can be no honoring of Native American treaty rights in the area - no one will be allowed within that distance.
With the waste that is currently at Hanford, we're looking at cancer risks of 1 in 10 in 2029 in some of the areas.
In Washington, it is illegal for you to bury your kitchen garbage in a trench in your backyard, yet the DOE proposal calls for dumping radioactive waste in unlined trenches at Hanford.
Carrying on with the theme of DOE being above the law, Pollet showed statistics of trucks, used by DOE contractors for the present Hanford cleanup, being stopped, or "arrested", at the Washington border for mechanical failures or not being up to WA code. In one year, Tri-State Motor Transit, the largest contractor sent 330 trucks to the border. Of these, 157 had defects and 63 were arrested. That's about 20% of the trucks were not up to WA law. The DOE's contractors, in this proposal, will be exempt from state inspections of trucks.
Normal 18 wheelers would be used to transport the waste in barrels, plywood boxes, and in concrete casks. The low level waste emits the radioactive equivalent of 4 chest X-rays an hour. 1 meter away, that becomes 2 chest X-Rays and hour. You wouldn't want to be stuck next to one of these trucks in traffic. Pollet mentioned also that some of these trucks have arrived already leaking to Hanford.
Pollet then went over a comparison of the impacts of different public and private, regulated and unregulated radioactive waste dumps. Basically, lined and independently regulated dumps did not show groundwater contamination, evidence of illegal hazardous waste dumping whereas unlined unregulated dumps showed groundwater contamination and illegal hazardous waste.
Will the Real Alternative Please Stand Up
Pollet closed his presentation with suggestions for real alternatives to turning the DOE proposal. He suggested the DOE minimize production of waste. This would cut to the root of the problem in handling nuclear waste - stop producing it and/or treating the waste before dumping it would minimize the amount of waste. Then, there's always the possibility of completely stopping production of waste from weapons production and reactors. He also mentioned that the dump would be taking in a lot of newly created waste.
Why not send the waste to a regulated dump? Pollet cited the cost of sending waste to regulated dumps where the sender is financially responsible for maintaining and monitoring of waste at the dump. Its a lot easier just to truck it to a hole in the ground.
He mentioned that Yucca Mountain is a planned high level waste dump where 90% of its waste will come from commercial sources. Only 10% of the space at Yucca is slated for defense use and of that amount Hanford waste is at the bottom of the list.
Some time was then spent on going over the problems of the DOE public comment procedures. The least of which was their lack of notifying the public. There was also mention of collusion with news media in not reporting this story. NOTE: I have yet to see an article in the Oregonian clearly laying out - radioactive waste in unlined trenches. Someone from the audience mentioned that the Bush administration has a standard policy of coming up with procedure in secret than ram-rodding it to the public.
Someone from the audience mentioned that there is a plan to dredge the Columbia River. No one was sure if there were any plans to ship waste to/from Hanford but they did mention nearby dams and the possibility of flooding washing away waste from unlined trenches. Pollet mentioned that the DOE decided the only time flooding would occur would be due to an act of war and not from any other natural catastrophe such as an earthquake.
In fact, the Hanford area was a floodplain before the dams. The Hanford site was chosen for this proposal not because it is an especially safe area but because it already belongs to DOE.
Before he let the audience go, Pollet urged us to take advantage of the public comments period of the study to ask questions and to express concern/outrage at this proposal.
Well, he let us loose and the presentation given by the DOE representative was clearly an exercise in hiding true information behind a of techno jargon smoke and mirrors.
The first series of guffaws were elicited from the audience when the DOE rep said we had a choice in the type of unlined trench that could be used at Hanford. The choices were: "existing-size trenches, bigger trenches, OR a megatrench." It wasn't clear if by megatrench he meant just one huge trench where all 70,000 truckloads of waste would be dumped.
He mentioned that waste from naval reactors while not part of the EIS are being planned to be dumped at Hanford. He could not tell us what other wastes are being planned for the dump that were not mentioned in the EIS.
After he mentioned that the caps used for the Hanford tanks would be safe for 10,000 years, someone asked how they test the stability for 10,000 years. He stated that you can't test for 10,000 years. So, the audience member asked, how can you say 10,000 years. DOE man said you can't ignore the fact that the waste will be around for a long time.
On trenches: We noted that there is not a whole lot of breakthrough in the trenches.
On definitions of High and Low level waste: In general, HLW is more hazardous than LLW but there are exceptions....
On Benefits of the dump at Hanford: As citizens of Oregon and Washington, there are no benefits. But as tax payers we would be helping other sites out.
What to Do?
The public comment period is over August 22, 2002. It is very easy to get your comment recorded and perhaps even considered. HAN suggests you urge the DOE to: 1) Withdraw the Hanford EIS; and 2) Start over by analyzing all the impacts to human and environmental health, especially the risk from groundwater contamination and transportation accidents.
Aside from the email mentioned above, you can snail-mail your comments to:
U.S. Department of Energy
PO Box 550, A6-38
Richland, WA 99352