October 11, 2004
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, located in southeastern Washington State less than 250 miles from Portland, is known as one of the most contaminated sites in the Western Hemisphere. What started in 1943 as a plutonium and tritium production facility became a place to handle the radioactive wastes generated by this nuclear weapons arsenal. According to the watchdog group Heart of America Northwest, in its first 30 years of operation, "multitudes more radiation was released into the air, soil, and water than Soviet officials say escaped at Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear accident in history."
Today the site suffers from serious clean-up concerns as well as leaking underground storage tanks that threaten the Columbia River watershed, upon which more than 1.5 million people rely for clean drinking water, fishing and recreation. Cleaning up the dangerous Hanford site is currently estimated to take 50 years and cost billions of taxpayer dollars.
Yet George W. Bush recently announced plans to ship 17,000 truckloads of additional radioactive waste through Oregon and Washington -- including a route along Interstate 5 directly through Portland -- to the Hanford site. Once there, the waste will be buried in the ground near the Columbia River, further complicating efforts to protect this clean water resource.
John Kerry has voted consistently to not only improve the safety of nuclear regulatory programs but also to prevent the unnecessary shipment of hazardous waste across the nation's highways and rails. Acknowledging the potential threats to our communities, Kerry voted repeatedly against efforts to send additional toxic waste to sites like Hanford, insisting instead on a more thorough scientific analysis.
The route to Hanford poses immediate risks to communities across the Northwest. For instance, weight restrictions on many interstate bridges would force the trucks onto secondary roads where they and their nuclear waste would pass by schools and neighborhoods, idling next to cars at the stoplight, winding along the same narrow routes. Unlike the transport of waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a controversial plan in its own right, these nuclear shipments would be transported in trucks that are far less protected against accidents.
Bush's decision to crisscross Washington and Oregon roads with truckloads of highly radioactive waste is reckless and poses serious threats to Northwest communities and to Portland residents specifically. John Kerry voted repeatedly against measures that would allow the shipment of nuclear waste to sites like Hanford prior to the completion of proper scientific analysis.
It's time to look at the facts and consider the costs involved in the careless plan to ship radioactive waste through Portland and other Northwest communities. With so much at stake, it's time to check out the candidates' records and make an informed decision on Nov. 2.
Erik Sten is a Portland city commissioner. Carl Pope is the Sierra Club's executive director.