Public health, environmental groups slam federal government’s latest proposed cleanup plan for Hanford Nuclear Site

Pictured: View of the b reactor at the Hanford site. The site is the world's first industrial-scale nuclear reactor as a national historical landmark.(Photo: U.S. Department of Energy, Public Domain)

Hanford encompasses a large area within culturally significant lands of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Wanapum people.

News Release

Columbia Riverkeeper

Hanford Challenge

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

A coalition of public health and environmental groups demanded the federal government revise a proposed plan to clean up over 4.5 square miles along the Columbia River at the Hanford Nuclear Site (Hanford), the most toxic place in America. The production of plutonium and other nuclear materials at the B and C nuclear reactors near the Columbia River left behind large volumes of waste, including radionuclides and hexavalent chromium. The B reactor is now part of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park and the shoreline is one of the more accessible areas of Hanford Reach National Monument. Contaminated groundwater enters the Columbia River along the shoreline.

“The federal government’s proposed cleanup plan reads more like a wait-and-see approach. Relying on signs and fences to keep the public and the Columbia River safe for thousands of years is unacceptable,” says Dan Serres, Conservation Director at Columbia Riverkeeper.

The U.S. Department of Energy (Energy) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) propose a long-term cleanup plan for 112 waste sites and groundwater in Hanford’s 100-BC Area. The plan calls for “no action” at 82 waste sites and monitoring of radioactive decay at another 30 wastes sites. In all cases of deep soil contamination (i.e., 15 feet or deeper), the government proposes to leave soil pollution in place.

“Money wasn’t a problem as the federal government created some 60,000 nuclear warheads at a cost of trillions of dollars – but when it comes to protecting its people, the environment and future generations from Hanford’s deadly legacy of radioactive wastes? No action,” said Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Hanford Challenge.

For over 300 acres of groundwater, Energy proposes to use signs, fences, and land use designations to limit how the area is used in the future. Energy anticipates that contamination will naturally decay in 60 to 70 years for hexavalent chromium and strontium-90, respectively.

“For years during the peak of plutonium production, Hanford managers and contractors engaged in an easy, and deeply irresponsible, mechanism to deal with massive volumes of radioactive and chemically contaminated waste water. They simply used the soil as the receptacle, directing massive volumes into trenches and basins,” said Bruce Amundson, Vice President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “These sites must be remediated to avoid the continuing, inevitable migration of these wastes into both the water table and the Columbia River.”

The Hanford Reach is the last remaining stretch of the mainstem Columbia River where fall Chinook salmon spawn in significant numbers. Hanford encompasses a large area within culturally significant lands of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Nez Perce Tribe, and the Wanapum people.

The public can submit comments online at columbiariverkeeper.org/petition-hanford, via email at 100BCAreaPP@rl.gov, or mail (U.S. Department of Energy, Attn: Jennifer Colborn; P.O. Box 450, H6-60, Richland, WA 99352).

Background on Hanford’s 100-BC Area

The 100-BC Area was once home to two nuclear reactors that operated from 1944 to 1969. The reactors generated plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal and produced hazardous and radioactive pollution that infiltrated soils and groundwater.

Radioactive and hazardous waste contaminated water: river water used to cool the reactors during plutonium production discharged directly back into the Columbia River, as well as infiltrated trenches and cribs. Contaminated solid waste, directly buried into the soil, also resulted in extensive contamination to soil, sludge, and groundwater. Leaking from the reactors’ aging piping and retention systems also lead to groundwater contamination that flows directly into the Columbia. The result: large amounts of radionuclides and hexavalent chromium.

Cleanup of the 100 Area began in 1995. Since then, the government has removed over 18 million tons of contaminated soil from the banks of the Columbia River and moved it to the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility in the Central Plateau; however, contaminated soil still remains.

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About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. Columbia Riverkeeper works with people in dozens of communities—rural and urban—with the same goals: protecting the health of their families and the places they love. Columbia Riverkeeper enforces environmental laws to stop illegal pollution, protects salmon habitat, and challenges harmful fossil fuel terminals. Columbia Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the world’s fastest growing environmental movement, uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations around the world.

About Hanford Challenge

Hanford Challenge exists to transform Hanford’s nuclear legacy into a model of safe and effective cleanup. Our mission is to help create a future for Hanford that secures human health and safety, advances accountability, and promotes a sustainable environmental legacy. For more information go to hanfordchallenge.org.

About Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

WPSR is the Washington state chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Physicians for Social Responsibility has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations. For more information go to wpsr.org.

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