Chili, Cornbread, and Cleanup

What is cleanup?  Eating all of your chili and cornbread?  Washing the dishes?  At Hanford the word cleanup is used to refer to a whole lot of things.  So I put together some pictures and captions to help folks see what we mean by cleanup.  Cleanup is digging up waste.  Cleanup is pumping and treating contaminated groundwater.  Cleanup is public involvement.   And so on.

Cleanup is mostly moving waste from one place to another and this generally means away from the Columbia River but it can also mean taking it offsite.  We sent a bunch of plutonium to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.  Savannah River was similar to Hanford.  It was started in the 1950’s as part of the massive effort to make nuclear weapons.  Hanford also sends its Transuranic waste (aka TRU waste) to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project.  TRU waste was created from the process of making plutonium.  Like all waste definitions they don’t always make sense.  Imagine drums full of protective clothing, tools, residue, and debris contaminated mainly with plutonium.

On December 14th we gathered at my house to eat some chili and cornbread and answer the question: What is cleanup?  This generated some discussion about whether or not cleanup is really possible at all.  With all of the other drivers at play like jobs, money, schedule and the uncertainty of it all, is cleanup possible?  There is uncertainty about what the world will look like in 50 years, and we are trying to create solutions to keep this waste immobile for hundreds of thousands of years.  And in order to justify spending billions of dollars on cleanup, arguments for that money require a high degree of certainty in the effectiveness of the solutions that are proposed, even if there is absolutely no certainty that they will work.  It is a tricky situation.

By: Liz Mattson

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