Inheriting Hanford Blog

Waste Treatment Plant Timeline

By: Pedro de la Torre III

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Hanford’s 177 underground waste tanks store around two thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume, but they were never designed to be permanent solutions to the disposal of the byproducts of plutonium production. All of the 149 single-shell tanks are beyond their design life, and about a third of them have leaked dangerous chemical and radioactive waste into Hanford’s soil and groundwater. There has long been a near-consensus that vitrification—the process of mixing radioactive wastes with glass-forming materials that, when hardened, make the long-lasting waste easier to contain—is a necessary step in the process of cleaning Hanford up.

Unfortunately, the effort to design and construct a vitrification plant to treat Hanford’s waste has encountered serious challenges for more than 20 years. The timeline below highlights key reports by federal agencies and contractors identifying and investigating these issues.

Among other things, these documents provide valuable insights into the Waste Treatment Plant’s (WTP) ballooning budgets and mounting delays, as well as technical issues that, if left unresolved, could lead to an inoperable facility or even a major nuclear accident. Hanford’s WTP has also had a troublesome “safety culture,” including alleged retaliation against whistleblowers.

The Department of Energy has made progress in addressing some of the challenges examined by these reports. There is much left undone, however, in terms of both resolving technical issues and  improving management of the WTP project.

Click here or on the preview above to check it out!

The Women of Hanford

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“I look back now and realize this was a free country but we were living behind barbed wire at Hanford, all to protect womanhood. I know that where women were concerned, Hanford could either make you or break you.”

                                    —Jane Jones Hutchins, 1940s Hanford worker

In early production days, women workers had distinctly different experiences at Hanford than their male counterparts. On site, women lived in barracks surrounded by a steel and barbed wire fence which was patrolled by guards to keep male workers out. Sexual assault was not uncommon at the time. Women workers were cheaper to hire than males because they were “paid less and did not qualify for subsidized housing in Richland” (Brown).

Women worked disproportionately in chemical processing roles, ostensibly because they were safer than jobs in the nuclear reactors on site — an assumption that later proved inaccurate. Many women also worked in kitchens and in administrative support roles. A few women scientists played significant roles in the Manhattan Project, including Leona Marshall Libby, an associate of Enrico Fermi, who helped solve the issue of xenon poisoning, which was interfering with plutonium production in Hanford’s reactors. If you want to learn more about the experiences of women in Hanford’s production days, the Atomic Heritage Foundation has a number of oral histories at Voices of the Manhattan Project.

As a woman doing work around Hanford in 2015, I can attest that women continue to have a distinct experience navigating the Hanford world. Even in an age in which women rank highly in managerial positions on site, many of us have experienced being talked down to in conversations about Hanford. I recall one humorous instance in which a young female friend of mine was enduring some unsolicited “education” from a gentleman about Hanford until she politely interrupted to inform him that she was currently finishing up her dissertation on Hanford and was already well-informed on the issues. 16917828829_2be631b428_z

A desire to foster community between Hanford women prompted a group of us to create “Ladies of Hanford,” an informal intergenerational group of women who work on or are interested in Hanford issues. Last week, we had our first meetup, a bowling night inspired by a picture of women Hanford workers bowling in the 1940s. Although my bowling skills are laughable, I had a great time talking Hanford and hanging out with some truly brilliant women. If you are a woman interested in Hanford issues, you can contact Liz at lizm@hanfordchallenge.org to learn more and get involved with Ladies of Hanford.

By: Emily Bays

Advisory Boards and Citizen Voices: The Hanford Advisory Board

If you follow Hanford news, you’re likely to come across mentions of the Hanford Advisory Board (HAB) and their views on particular issues. The HAB is a 32-seat board that provides “informed advice and recommendations to the Tri-Party agencies on selected major policy issues concerning Hanford.”

HAB seats include representatives for a variety of groups, including

·      Tribes,
·      Hanford workforce
·      General public
·      Hanford unions
·      Universities
·      Environmental interests
·      Public health groups
·      State of Oregon
·      Representatives of local business interests

You can get more information about HAB membership here.

With so many different perspectives represented by HAB members, it is not a simple task to reach consensus when writing advice for the Tri-Party agencies. Discussions can be long and arduous. The survivor-themed decoration on the cake at the HAB’s anniversary party read “Outalk, Outsit, Outlast,” in a humorous nod to the tenacity required to make it through the long meetings and advice-writing.

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This description of HAB meetings may not entice you, but they are often full of interesting discussion by Hanford experts and newcomers from a variety of backgrounds on important issues at the site.

HAB committees include:
·      Public Involvement
·      Tank Waste
·      Health, Safety, and Environmental Protection
·      River & Plateau
·      Executive Issues.

Committee members write advice on relevant issues and bring the advice to full board meetings for approval, where amendments can be made until consensus is reached and the advice is sent to the appropriate agencies.

The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington State participate extensively in HAB activities and are present at each meeting. The presence of Hanford decision makers makes the HAB a vital tool for representing the public voice in Hanford cleanup decisions.

Since its charter in 1994, the HAB has given sustained attention to the many complex issues of nuclear waste cleanup and been a staunch advocate for the public, promoting accountability and transparency in cleanup decisions.

At HAB meetings you will also hear:
·      The latest updates from agency representatives
·      Hanford workers speak about their experiences
·      Tribal perspectives on cleanup

15765789066_86c651021f_kEvery Hanford Advisory Board meeting is open to the public, and time is allotted for public comment. If you are in the Tri-City area, this is a great opportunity to learn about and make a comment on cleanup issues that are important to you. The next HAB meeting is April 8-9 in Richland, and part of the meeting will be held in the evening to promote public attendance. Click here for more information about that meeting, including an agenda and call-in info for long-distance participants.

For more information about the Hanford Advisory Board, check out the official website.

by: Emily Bays

Particles on the Wall

On April 1, the art exhibit Particles on the Wall (POTW) will go up at the Maxey Museum at Whitman College in Walla Walla. POTW is an exhibit that explores “the world implications of the Hanford Nuclear Site, striving to display and unite core pieces in four disciplines: visual arts, literary arts, science, and history and memorabilia.” The exhibit aims to promote discussion and expression about Hanford.

POTW
The Hanford world can often seem dry, dense, and enigmatic. By pairing historical information about Hanford with poetry and visual art, POTW upends the traditional Hanford narrative and provides an engaging and diverse range of representations of Hanford’s impact.

Pieces in POTW include poetry, prose, historical Hanford-related objects, sculptures, and visual art. One of the featured poets is Kathleen Flenniken, former Washington State Poet Laureate and a former Hanford worker, whose book of poetry about Hanford, Plume, won the Washington State Book Award.

Particles on the Wall is a moving exhibit that frequently changes location. If you are near the Walla Walla area, I encourage you to go see it while it is set up in the Maxey Museum during April. It is also available as a book and a free PDF via the Particles on the Wall website.

by: Emily Bays

The Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board

Did you know that there are not one, but two Hanford-focused advisory boards? The first is the Hanford Advisory Board (the HAB), featured in another blog post here. The second advisory board working on Hanford cleanup issues is the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board (OHCB).

The OHCB, formerly the Oregon Hanford Waste Board, was established by the Oregon State legislature in 1987. Like the HAB, the OHCB provides input to the Department of Energy and its regulators (the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology) on a variety of cleanup topics. It additionally provides policy recommendations to the Oregon legislature and the office of the governor.

The membership of the OHCB differs from that of the HAB in its inclusion of six Oregon state legislators, representatives from the Oregon Governor’s Office, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and two Oregon state agencies. The OHCB also has 10 citizen members representing different geographical areas of Oregon. The OHCB meets three times a year, often at locations along the Columbia River to emphasize a connection between the river and Hanford cleanup.

From Dirk Dunning's radiation primer

An image from the radiation primer at the Sept 2014 OHCB meeting by Dirk Dunning of ODOE.

I got to join the OHCB for a meeting in Cascade Locks, Oregon in September of 2014. I found the OHCB meeting to be slower-paced and more intelligible to a Hanford newbie than most of HAB meetings I’ve been to. The smaller group made for easier conversation between board members and agency representatives. Like at HAB meetings, time was built in for public comment so I was able to ask questions of board members, Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) staff, and agency representatives. The meeting I attended also featured a particularly helpful primer on radiation by Dirk Dunning of ODOE.

You can peruse past OHCB advice and agendas here. The next OHCB meeting is on June 1st & 2nd in Boardman, Oregon, near Hermiston and not far from the Tri-Cities. The OHCB has a goal of increasing public awareness and involvement in Hanford cleanup by Oregon stakeholders and encourages the public to attend and participate. If you have questions about the OHCB or are interested in attending a future meeting, you can contact Ken Niles of ODOE.

by: Emily Bays

Getting Involved Through Hanford Internships

Internships can be a great way for young people to become involved in Hanford cleanup. Whether you are interested in getting experience with the nonprofit sector, contractors, or government agencies, there are options out there for you.

Because information about Hanford Internships can be hard to find, we created an internship guide to help you explore internship opportunities related to Hanford. Thanks to Pedro de la Torre for putting this guide together!

Hanford Internship and Contact Information

Hanford Movie Roundup!

Unfortunately, there are few movies that focus specifically on the Hanford Site. The Hanford Story, available online, is a documentary about Hanford produced by the Department of Energy and its contractors. It focuses on groundwater, tank waste, the Hanford workforce, and the future of the Hanford Site. Though very helpful for background information, I found The Hanford Story to represent primarily DOE’s perspective, bringing little nuance to conversation about cleanup. Though lacking in critical discourse, the film does feature some wonderful shots of the wild areas around Hanford and the site itself.

Arid Lands is a documentary that focuses particularly on environmental issues around Hanford and the Tri-Cities, the cities adjacent to the Hanford Site. The filmmakers did a good job of exploring the intersections of agriculture, conservation, and economic development in the region. It is a thoughtful and captivating documentary that brings forth issues that see little discussion outside the Tri-Cities about the future of the site, surrounding communities, and the Hanford Reach.

In 2013, Oregon Public Broadcasting aired an hour-long special on Hanford. The documentary focuses primarily on the production era, when Hanford was still producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. One highlight of the documentary is the testimony from former workers about the culture of secrecy on site, which resulted in most workers not understanding exactly what they were doing at work each day. The end of the documentary does lightly touch upon the transition to cleanup, but would have benefited from more exploration of Hanford’s present and future.

A number of films also explore nuclear issues relevant to the Hanford. One of my favorites is Silkwood, an Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep and based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a whistleblower at a nuclear fuel fabrication site in Oklahoma in the 70s. Silkwood was a labor organizer and worker’s health advocate who herself became contaminated with plutonium at work and later died under suspicious circumstances. Meryl Streep does an amazing job portraying such a dynamic, powerful character, with great accompaniment by Cher, who plays Silkwood’s best friend. The film does feature a mention of Hanford, and it is a good way to learn about an important, high-profile nuclear whistleblower case.

The Washington State Department of Ecology also has a comprehensive Hanford movie bibliography.

What are your favorite movies about or relevant to Hanford? Feel free to share in the comments.

by: Emily Bays

Why Make a Public Comment?

It can be hard to feel like we have a say in cleanup of the Hanford Site. The cleanup process can seem like a bureaucratic enigma that has to be carefully studied to be understood. So how can we Hanford newbies begin to participate in Hanford Cleanup?

Public comment periods are an important opportunity for the public to have a say in this cleanup process. The Tri-Parties are required by law to hold comment periods for proposed changes to permits on the Hanford Site.

So, why take the time to make a public comment?

  1. It helps you learn about Hanford.

Preparing a comment for a public comment period requires you to do your research on a particular Hanford topic that you may not be familiar with.

  1. Your comment will be read and responded to. 

Agencies are required to read and respond to every public comment that is submitted during a particular comment period. You can rest assured that your comment won’t go unread and unanswered.

  1. It helps agencies know what public opinion is, and that the public cares.

Public comment opportunities let the Tri-Party Agencies know that the public is watching what is happening at the Hanford Site and have an opinion on cleanup issues.

Interested in making a public comment? Current public comment periods are available on the Department of Ecology’s website. Public comment period information is accompanied by informational fact sheets, relevant permit documents, and public meeting information. The page also has information on where to send completed comments.

Many public interest groups such as Hanford Challenge and Columbia Riverkeeper also create fact sheets for citizens to consult to gain additional background information on the issue. Sometimes, the Hanford Advisory Board has also given advice in the past on the issue in question. HAB advice can be helpful background for informing your own comment.

by: Emily Bays

Oral Histories from Hanford-affected Tribes

I have found that many books that tell the story of Hanford contain little information about the tribes whose treaty rights were impacted by the Hanford Site. These three oral histories from Voices of the Manhattan Project come from interviews with members of the Yakima Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Wanapum and represent an often unheard story of a group disproportionately impacted by Hanford.

by: Emily Bays

“1945-1998″ by Isao Hashimoto

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto created this animated map of 20th century nuclear explosions. Look out for the Trinity test and the Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by over 2,000 nuclear weapons tests. Thanks to Historian Bo Jacobs who showed this video at his talk at the UW this week!

by: Emily Bays

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