Fellow nonprofit journalism center ProPublica produced this insightful report about how the state of Washington is brushing past the insidious and sometimes lethal risks of beryllium contamination during its stimulus-funded stampede to hire workers to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.The report by David Epstein and Krista Kjellman Schmidt shows that the effects are more than just workplace statistics. They have a human face.
Maybe it was the post-Earth Day glow, or perhaps the prospect of a long-delayed vacation. But today when I and colleagues from the Society of Environmental Journalists visited the most contaminated site in North America, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, I was surprised by the amount of progress that has been made on cleanup.Now, there's no doubt that Hanford is still a mess. The project is starting to look like it will cost roughly twice as much and take roughly twice as long as originally estimated, as Karen Dorn Steele established on our tour. There's been no shortage of screwups and missteps in the cleanup process. Radioactive waste is leaking into the only part of the Columbia River that still flows naturally, onto the spawning grounds for that so-very-rare commodity on the Columbia, a healthy salmon run.And, of course, there’s the seemingly never-ending quest to build what has begun to sound like a figment of someone’s imagination: A plant that encases the worst of the wastes in a glass-like substance for longterm storage. Now it’s supposed to be done in 2019. I’ll believe it when I see it.
For the next 10 days, a helicopter will be hovering over the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in hopes of discovering how animals have spread radioactive salts around the area, reports Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.
In a chopper equipped with aerial radiological survey gear, CH2m Hill Plateau Remediation Co. — the company contracted by the Department of Energy to conduct the surveys — will fly just above the site at 80 miles per hour looking for contaminated “hot spots.” The idea is that aerial surveys will help narrow the estimated ground contaminated and reduce cleanup costs. The 13.7-square-mile portion of Hanford being surveyed is just south of the trenches that were filled with millions of gallons of liquid radioactive waste during the Cold War.
Understanding how animals contribute to the movement of radioactive contamination has gained attention in recent years. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that scientists were convening this week in Kennewick, Wash., very near Hanford to discuss just that.
The crew will also survey nearby West Lake, an ephemeral wetland once filled with contaminated ground water that seeped up through aquifers, leaving behind traces of radioactive salts.
Idaho and Washington states could end up housing high-level radioactive waste for decades to come, the fallout of closing down a Nevada repository. President Barack Obama is making good on a campaign promise by killing the Yucca Mountain repository outside Las Vegas, report Erika Bostad and Les Blumenthal of McClatchy Newspapers. But with Yucca Mountain off the table, that leaves the Idaho National Laboratory, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington and the Savanannah River Site in South Carolina as the likely successors.
“We’re all concerned,” said Jared Fuhriman, the mayor of Idaho Falls, the largest city near INL. “Where are we going to store the waste that we have? How many millions and millions of dollars has been spent, of taxpayer dollars, and now all the sudden, there doesn’t seem to be any future for it? We’re going to have to store them somewhere.”
Fuhriman was echoed by Gary Petersen of the Tri-City Industrial Development Council, near the Hanford nuclear reservation. “We don’t want to become a long-term repository without even having a discussion about it.”
There have been significant developments this week in two of the longest-running environmental sagas in the Pacific Northwest, both pitting locals against the federal government. One is ostensibly resolved, while the other looks like it might never end:
The mega-slow cleanup pace of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been the subject of years of fights between Washington and the federal government, with deadlines set and agreed upon, and then promptly broken. This week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu traveled to Washington and inked another deal, again with court-enforceable deadlines, appearing near Hanford with Washignton Gov. Christine Gregoire and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The deal gives the feds another 20 years to get the job done, Scott Learn of The Oregonian points out. (Chu also announced — and this seems like it should have gotten more attention — the release of $343 million in stimulus money to build new transmission lines to help use the Northwest’s rapidly increasing supply of wind power. Tip of the hat to Anna King of KPLU for covering this.)
Meanwhile, down in Portland, environmentalists and the state of Oregon have prosectued a yearslong court case against the Bush administration, claiming its plan to rescue salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers is inadequate. The fish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and many environmentalists say the only sure way to save them is to knock out four dams on the Snake. For a while speculation rose high that U.S. District Judge James Redding would step in and run the federal hydropower system on the rivers, but he seems reluctant to do so.
The state of Washington is concerned about the possible impacts on the environmental cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation if the federal Department of Energy picks Hanford for long-term storage of the nation’s mercury, the Tri-City Herald reports today. A state official made the comments at a public hearing Tuesday held by the federal agency, which is considering Hanford and six other sites to store up to 11,000 tons of mercury from private sources over 40 years, and possibly 1,300 tons of mercury left from the nuclear weapons program. A federal law passed last year prohibits the export of mercury beginning in 2013 and requires DOE to have facilities to manage and store mercury by that date.