The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a former nuclear production area situation in south central Washington State, alongside the Columbia River, has long been an area for concern environmentalists and residents in the Pacific Northwest. As a life-long Washington State resident who was born and raised a mere 50 mile west of the reservation, it seems that Hanford has always been a health and safety concern.
Most people recognize that Hanford, established in 1943, was part of the Manhattan Project. We now know that it was the home of the B Reactor – the world’s first plutonium reactor, producing plutonium used in the nuclear bomb, Fat Man, which devastated Nagasaki, Japan.
Production ended after the end of the Cold War, but 53 million gallons of radioactive waste remains in 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford. It is considered the most contaminated site in the United States, and a lengthy process for clean up has been on-going. While there is still commercial activity at Hanford — the Columbia Generating Station, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and LOGO Hanford Observatory — the focus is on the area’s environmental cleanup.
Washington State Department of Ecology announced in October, 2010, that the U.S. District Court in Spokane, Washington has finally, “… approved and entered a judicial consent decree that imposes a new, enforceable and achievable schedule for cleaning up waste from Hanford’s underground tanks.”
The announcement continues with a comment from Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire, “This consent decree shows that America will keep its promises to clean up the toxic legacy of nuclear weapons development at Hanford. The radioactive and hazardous waste will be removed from those huge, leak-prone underground storage tanks. The Columbia River – and a million people who live and work downstream from Hanford – will be protected from contamination. Now we can all focus our full attention on getting the cleanup completed.”
As a citizen living in the shadow of Hanford, I say it’s about time. It took several years of negotiations to come to this conclusion. The consent decree is half of the settlement. The other part includes an administrative agreement among the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the Energy Website press release, ” This is part of a lawsuit that Ecology filed against DOE to compel the completion of key aspects of the Hanford cleanup. The state of Oregon joined the lawsuit later.”
Key points of the agreement, as listed on the website, include: Pacing milestones to keep construction of the WTP on schedule; completion of the retrieval of single-shell tanks in Hanford’s C Farm in 2014; treatment of tank waste beginning in 2019 with full operations in 2022; completing the retrieval of all single-shell tanks in 2040; completing the treatment of tank waste in 2047; closing the double-shell tank farms in 2052.
It will take over forty years to complete the task, but at least there is a legal and binding solution in place. Hopefully it will not be too late to make the improvements needed for the Hanford environment. Nothing can truly clean up all the damage, but this is a start.
Washington State Department of Ecology: Website