Hanford: Cleanup Plans

 Protecting the Columbia River from Radioactive & Chemical Wastes

Hanford Waste Dumping (DOE)Protecting the Columbia River from Hanford’s nuclear legacy depends on effective, timely cleanup. This includes removing buried radioactive waste and preventing contaminated groundwater from the reaching the river. We also face ongoing efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to import off-site radioactive waste to Hanford. Here is a sampling of the cleanup efforts and nuclear energy proposals Riverkeeper is closely monitoring and weighing in on.


Solid Waste Burial Grounds

DOE is developing plans to evaluate and clean up over 40-miles of unlined trenches (also known as burial grounds) that contain high levels of radioactive and chemical wastes. These burial grounds present a unique cleanup problem because DOE lacks records for wastes historically dumped in many of the trenches. Some burial grounds hold very high levels of plutonium and uranium, while others contain solid waste with chemically toxic materials. Going forward, we will need to ensure that DOE aggressively remediates the burial grounds so that dangerous levels of waste are not left in the soil under caps.


Tank Closure + Waste Management Impact Statement (TC+WM EIS)

In 2010, DOE released a draft version of its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the closure of tanks that have leaked radioactive waste and the management of other wastes on the site. As part of its analysis, DOE projected that pollutants like technectium, carbon tetrachloride, uranium, and plutonium all pose a significant threat to the Columbia River for hundreds, and even thousands, of years. We have called on DOE to consider a plan that completely excludes importing new waste to Hanford. Importing more waste will exacerbate the severe contamination risks already present on the site.

Read DOE’s Draft TC+WM EIS and Columbia Riverkeeper’s Public Comments on the proposal.


Site-wide Clean-up Permit

In 2011, Washington’s Department of Ecology (Ecology) will present the conditions for its cleanup actions under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The permit will set the legally binding conditions for how the State of Washington moves forward with cleanup on many areas of the site. As concerned members of the public, we can advocate for aggressive cleanup schedules and a prohibition on import of new waste to the Hanford site.


Newly Discovered Contamination Under 324-Building

In late 2010, Washington’s Department of Ecology detected high levels of waste that had leaked into soils beneath the 324-Building in the 300-Area of the Hanford Site. The public will need to watch closely to ensure that Ecology does adequate testing to detect whether contamination is entering groundwater, and that pollution in the soil column is removed before it can reach groundwater and the Columbia River. According to Mark French of DOE, “This is extremely high radiation. Nothing else compares in the river corridor.”


The Future of Energy at Hanford

In 2011, Riverkeeper will watch closely as DOE proceeds with its Energy Parks initiative. Early reports indicated that new energy projects could involve new nuclear generation on the Hanford site. However, the most recent available information indicates that areas of the site could be used for renewable power generation, a concept that Riverkeeper supports. We encourage the public to join us in weighing-in to ensure that Hanford’s future does not include taxpayer subsidies for continued dirty energy industries.