Sunday, February 14, 2010

Columbia River Threatened by Radioactive Waste from Hanford

near the Columbia River on the Hanford Site in southeast Washington

The Hanford Site

Try to imagine a million gallons of water. That’s how much highly contaminated, radioactive groundwater is flowing toward the Columbia River from the Hanford Site in southeast Washington. Fifty-three million gallons of high-level radioactive waste have been stored in underground tanks at the Hanford Site and many of these tanks are leaking highly-toxic liquid into the soil.

The Columbia River flows along the Hanford Site for about fifty miles and the Snake River and Yakima River join the Columbia nearby. Salmon, steelhead and sturgeon depend on these important waterways for their survival.

Hanford’s history as a nuclear facility began in 1943 during World War II. Plutonium produced at Hanford was used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Plutonium production continued in nine nuclear reactors until 1988. The radioactive waste that was stored on-site has created environmental problems at a scale that is difficult to imagine. Hanford is considered to be the most contaminated radioactive site in the hemisphere and it is the largest environmental clean-up project in the world.

The Environmental Impact Statement

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address the Hanford clean-up. The Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford Site, Richland, Washington includes:

* Treatment of the 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste and closing the aging underground tanks.

* Disposing of solid waste with the possibility of receiving additional waste from other facilities.

* Decommissioning the Fast Flux Test Facility, a nuclear reactor from the 1980s.

Public Meeting

A public meeting will be held in La Grande, Oregon on Monday, February 22, 2010 at Room 309 Hoke Union Building on the Eastern Oregon University campus. An open house begins at 6 PM with informational materials available, the opportunity to speak with staff from DOE and Washington State Department of Ecology, and registration for public comments. Presentations by agency staff begin at 7 PM followed by the opportunity for members of the public to provide oral comments to be recorded for the record.

Public Comments

The DOE is also accepting written public comments about the Environmental Impact Statement until March 19, 2010. Written comments may be submitted as follows:

U.S. Mail: Mary Beth Burandt, NEPA Document Manager, US Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Attn: TC& WM EIS, P.O. Box 1178, Richland, WA 99352.

Toll-free FAX: 1-888-785-2865

Email: TC&

Important Points for Comments

* The DOE should clean-up all 53 million gallons of buried nuclear waste to a 99.9% rate of retrieval. They are considering less stringent standards.

* Drop the proposal to ship radioactive waste into Hanford from across the nation. Shipments on Interstate 84 could travel through the Blue Mountains and the communities of Pendleton, La Grande, and Baker City. Cabbage Hill and Ladd Canyon are well-known as treacherous sections of the highway in the winter and numerous truck accidents occur there every winter. Hanford is already extremely contaminated. Do not import more contaminated waste!

* Clean up the waste that has leaked into the ground and prevent it from reaching the Columbia River. A complete clean-up is needed to protect salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other aquatic life from contamination by radioactive waste. DOE’s proposal is not thorough enough. All contaminated soil and groundwater must be treated!


Thanks to Columbia Riverkeeper for providing valuable information about the Hanford EIS. Visit their website at:

For more information on the EIS from the US Department of Energy, visit: (click on “Tank Closure & WM EIS info”).

Read “The Columbia River at Risk: Why Hanford Cleanup is Vital to Oregon” from the Oregon Department of Energy at .

From The Oregonian:

A recent news story:

A recent editorial:

A recent guest opinion piece:

Story by Brian Kelly, HCPC Restoration Coordinator

Photo courtesy: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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