Since 1989, the US government has been unsuccessfully trying to clean up Hanford, North America's most contaminated site. Unfortunately, without imminent cleanup, Hanford's radioactive and chemical wastes will permanently contaminate the Northwest's life-blood, our Columbia River.
$25 billion have been spent so far, $2 billion a year trying to protect the aquifer underneath the site and the Columbia River. In return, the U.S. Department of Energy produced excuses for numerous delays. Now the DOE proposes its costliest and most life-threatening delays.
A planned vitrification plant was to convert 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive and chemical wastes stored in rotting leaky tanks into more manageable glass "logs." In the late 1990's, DOE committed to begin plant operation by 2002. Delays and cost overruns pushed that promised start to 2007. Now, DOE wants to delay start until 2019 with costs exceeding $12 billion.
In business, contractor and management team would be fired, legal steps taken to recoup lost funds, and solutions found to recover. But Hanford is a nirvana for the incompetent, where taxpayer-sponsored "cost-plus" contracting is "heads, I win, tails, you lose" for lucky private contractors and their public managers.
So why are Congress, Washington State and the U.S. EPA complying with such delay? Instead of accepting excuses, shouldn't they be looking at changing Hanford's management?
Hanford was supposed to be completely cleaned by 2028. DOE now says 2052 and hedges about how "clean" they will leave the site when finished. DOE ought to be fired. The newest delays, not only fail to safeguard, but place our region's health at risk.
We must call upon Congress to replace DOE with the States of Washington and Oregon and the Columbia River Tribes in managing Hanford cleanup, just as the Northwest Power and Conservation Council oversees the Bonneville Power Administration. This would guarantee focus on cleanup.
I believe that with the right leadership, vitrification of the high-level radioactive tank waste could start in 5 years, all of the single-shell waste tanks cleaned out and the most serious groundwater contamination could be cleaned up within 10 years, and full cleanup within my lifetime. We would save billions of dollars by simply creating a management team whose sole focus is Hanford cleanup.
The key managers of the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE Office of River Protection, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology, will be coming to Portland December 11 to hear what you think about these proposed delays. If you care about the future of the Columbia River come and make your views heard.
Hanford State of the Site Meeting: Dec. 11, open house 6:30 p.m., discussion 7 p.m. at Red Lion Inn on the River, Jantzen Beach, 909 N. Hayden Island Dr.