Faith and Hanford

The Hanford Reach

I have the privilege of hearing the nuclear news pretty regularly because I live with Emily, who works at Hanford Challenge. It’s strange sometimes to step back and reflect on where life takes you – a few months ago, I had never been to Seattle, I did not know Hanford existed, and I didn’t ever really tie environmental issues into my faith. I believed in the need to do something about global warming, and I thought it was important to live as ‘green’ as possible in order to care for creation, but I didn’t think my faith required more engagement than that.

Emily and I live with four other housemates, the six of us making up Seattle’s first chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. I’ve had friends do various religious-corps after graduating from college or graduate school, but I had not heard of anyone working at an advocacy-related or environmental-focused work site through any of these year-long programs. I didn’t think much about Emily’s placement at Hanford Challenge other than, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ I didn’t really think that it would affect my life much at all.

Now, three months into a year of living as an intentional community, I can’t believe it took me so long to get to Seattle, I can’t believe I had never been educated about the nuclear waste site that produced the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and I can’t believe I did not see the connection of environmental issues and my faith.

What I’ve learned in the past few months has made the idea of caring for the earth much more real and pressing. I had learned about the negative side of nuclear energy earlier in my life, but always in a context completely separate from myself. I had read personal accounts of the Chernobyl explosion and the following years of devastation, but nuclear energy still seemed so foreign. Living in Seattle, I can no longer keep nuclear energy and the environment tucked away in my mind as something fictional. Hanford is only three and a half hours away from my house, and on a clear day, I can see so much of our beautiful world that the idea of its degradation is a personal offense! The fear of nuclear harm not only on the environment, but also on health and wellness, and personal livelihoods, has become much more real and pressing. As people are hurt and lands upon which homes and communities are built continue to deteriorate, I have come to realize that I actually can’t separate my faith from the environment.

I work at a church in downtown Seattle, so I come from a Christian perspective, though I don’t believe that it is only the Christian faith that propels us to action in response to the unfair destruction of our world. Our churches, though, proclaim that seeking justice and peace is a key aspect of the Christian faith – and these past few months, I’ve learned that it is impossible to separate environmental degradation from that mission. Should we continue to turn away from the pressing need for adequate cleanup at the Hanford Site, we will be turning away from the health of those impacted by eating fish from the contaminated waters nearby. If we ignore the need to clean up our environment and preserve it, we’re ignoring the very real medical realities that come from exposure to radiation. The example of Jesus’s life, the example that the church is supposedly modeled after, is one that does not only address the ‘convenient’ injustices, the ones that only require a morning volunteer shift. Breaking the chains of oppression, including those chains placed by mismanagement, should be church business too. A renewed look at environmental stewardship wouldn’t hurt.

by: Delaney Ozmun

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