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Dec-13-2013 08:52printcomments

US Energy Department Announces it Still Plans to Use Hanford as a National Radioactive Waste Dump

Decision to be issued in Federal Register on Friday December 13th also includes "covering up, instead of cleaning up" leaks and discharges from High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks

Radioactive waste

(SEATTLE) - The U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) will issue a formal "Record of Decision" in the Federal Register on Friday, December 13th stating that USDOE will plan to resume using Hanford as a national radioactive and chemical waste dump for waste from other USDOE weapons and nuclear facilities.

The region's largest citizen Hanford Clean-Up watchdog group, Heart of America Northwest, vowed to take "all legal, lobbying and organizing efforts necessary to continue to stop use of Hanford as a national radioactive chemical waste dump," said Gerry Pollet, the 16,000 member group's Executive Director. "We need to cleanup Hanford, which is the most contaminated place in the nation, not add more waste to Hanford's contamination problems.

The Energy Department wants to "Cover-Up, not Clean-Up," said Pollet.

The plan to be released in the Federal Register is to literally 'cover-up' contamination spreading through the soil towards the Columbia River, and add more waste which will contaminate the groundwater flowing to the River, rather than cleaning up.

Rather than removing and cleaning up the contamination from leaks and the deliberate dumping of hundreds of millions of gallons of deadly High-Level Nuclear Waste from underground tanks, the Energy Department, under its "Record of Decision," will seek to cover the contamination with dirt. This is referred to as a "landfill closure," which is not legally allowed for leaks of deadly material from tanks.

The Energy Department's decision fails to include any timeline for removing waste from High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks which are admitted to be leaking, or from other tanks which have leaked in the recent past and are likely to start leaking again.

Heart of America Northwest called on the powerful Northwest Congressional Delegation and Governor of Washington to:

  1. stop the Energy Department from adding more waste to Hanford;
  2. require that leaking tanks are emptied within the next three years;
  3. require that leaks and discharges from the tanks are cleaned up, not just 'covered-up'.

According to analyses in the federal Energy Department's multi-year $85 million "Tank Closure and Waste Management EIS", the immense groundwater resource under Hanford - which flows to the Columbia River - will be repeatedly recontaminated far above drinking water standards over ten thousand years if the Energy Department leaves tank leak and discharge contamination in the soil under a dirt cover, or adds more waste from other Energy Department facilities to be buried in landfills.

The Record of Decision is the formal decision document on the proposals which the EIS reviewed. Thousands of people attended hearings on the EIS around the Northwest to oppose the proposals to add more waste to Hanford or leave tank waste contamination in the ground in 2010.

At the hearings, USDOE sought to defuse opposition from the public, citizen groups, tribes and the States of Oregon and Washington to its proposed decision to resume using Hanford as a national waste dump by saying it would only resume shipping waste to be buried at Hanford after startup of the "vitrification" plant being built to turn mix High-Level Nuclear Wastes into a glass for disposal. The Plant startup has been delayed until after 2019 due to safety concerns and the lack of testing of chemical processes.

Adding more waste to be buried at Hanford increases the total contaminant load in the soil, which modeling in the TCWMEIS showed would be released to the groundwater in pulses over ten thousand years, with different radionuclides contaminating the groundwater above drinking water standards over and over again. Whether or not USDOE succeeds in starting the vitrification plant has no bearing on the fact that adding more waste from offsite in landfills will contaminate the groundwater.

USDOE's promise not to start shipping waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant operates is not a legally binding commitment - if the plant does not startup in 2019 (or even if it never starts), USDOE is free to change the "Record of Decision" to start importing waste for burial at any time.

Therefore, Heart of America Northwest is continuing to urge Washington Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology to issue a hazardous waste permit condition for Hanford which bars adding any offsite wastes to Hanford as long as existing wastes and contamination are not cleaned up; and, under authority the state has since USDOE's own projections in the TCWMEIS show that groundwater will be contaminated from the existing wastes.

Source: Heart of America Northwest
"The Public's Voice for Hanford Clean-Up"



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Swany December 18, 2013 2:33 pm (Pacific time)

This article contains several errors that greatly exaggerate the extent of contamination at Hanford and the true risk to the public and the environment from DOE's Record of Decision. It's not surprising considering the source. The statement that "hundreds of millions of gallons of deadly High-Level Nuclear Waste from underground tanks" were deliberately dumped in the ground at Hanford is simply not true. It is estimated that about one million gallons have leaked from the tanks (see TC&WM EIS Appendix S) which is not insignificant but is far less than what Heart of America Northwest is claiming. If they got that one so wrong what else are they telling us that's not quite true? Heart of America claims DOE wants to turn Hanford into a "national waste dump" and infers that DOE is free to import waste at any time. In the ROD that was just released DOE stated that any future decision to import off-site waste to Hanford would be subject to appropriate NEPA review. Given the magnitude of the potential impacts that review would most likely be a separate EIS for that proposed action with full public participation and review.

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