Tag Archives: Hanford

Hanford’s story can be told in different ways

Cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford reservation in Eastern Washington is one of this state’s most critical and vexing environmental problems. The site is so dangerous to the people and environment along the Columbia River that every Washington resident ought to keep an eye on the progress.

“The contaminants out there are so dangerous and so long-lived… We should be absolutely insisting that the federal government clean that site up, whatever the cost,” Jay Manning told me three years ago.

Manning was the director of the Department of Ecology when I interviewed him about the state’s top environmental problems. See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 16, 2008. He has since become the governor’s chief of staff. See Water Ways, Oct. 5, 2009.

Since then, the federal government has poured billions into the project, including a significant boost of dollars with the economic stimulus package. Now that effort is being pared back, with a significant loss of jobs, as Annette Cary reports in the Tri-City Herald.

Converting huge amounts of nuclear waste into a safer form is a difficult technological and logistical problem, as reporter Craig Welch points out in a pair Seattle Times stories published Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.

These stories bring you into the meat of the problem. But I have to say that I was equally impressed by a short piece I heard last night on KUOW radio. Reporter Anna King helps us understand the nature of problem from the perspective of people who have made a career out of cleaning up Hanford’s waste. These grizzled employees have learned from years of experience, and are now about to turn over their projects to a new generation. The newcomers will learn to navigate the minefields of nuclear risk — but they, too, may be retired before the job is done. Quoting from her piece:
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Washington state will sue federal government over Hanford

UPDATE: See added notes below

Gov. Chris Gregoire has run out of patience in dealing with the federal government, which has not lived up to its agreement to clean up nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Now, the state will battle the federal government in court.

I received a press release from the Governor’s Office moments ago. It contains this quote from Gregoire:

“In Washington state, we have been patient and reasonable in working with the federal agencies at Hanford,” Gregoire said. “Today, our patience has run out. The federal cleanup has been far too slow.

“In the past three years, the situation has gotten much worse. We now face—not years, not decades—but more than a century of delay. The most recent budget proposed by President Bush puts us on pace to empty one tank per year. At that rate, it will take 140 years to empty the worst of the remaining tanks. That’s not only absurd. It’s unconscionable. The people of Washington cannot stand for that, and will not stand for that.”

In 1989, the state and federal government reached agreement on a cleanup schedule that had a chance of preventing dangerous groundwater contamination in the Hanford region, including the Columbia River. The federal government, pleading poverty, has never lived up to the rate of progress promised in that agreement.

UPDATE: Wednesday, Nov. 26

Considering the increasing concern about nuclear waste at Hanford, there has been surprising little reaction to yesterday’s announcement by Gov. Chris Gregoire that this state will sue the federal government. For the moment, I’ll just add a few notes. Please read on:
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