Hanford: Inequities & Unheard Voices


This past fall quarter I was enrolled in a medical anthropology class taught by Holly Barker at the University of Washington.  Throughout the quarter, our class met weekly with our NGO partners, Hanford Challenge and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, to coordinate the details of a public meeting: Hanford: Inequities & Unheard Voices.  During the weeks of planning, our class learned about the geopolitics of today’s nuclear order while also gaining firsthand insights into the complex history of Hanford Nuclear Site.  The meeting provided an excellent platform for us to deepen our knowledge of the issues at Hanford, while also affording us an opportunity to raise awareness by engaging with the public.

The event was catered by the generous contributions of Shalimar Restaurant, Nesbit’s Wholesome Cuisine, Tutta-Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria and Mighty-O Donuts.  The evening began with a few songs from The Raging Grannies, a group of fabulously radical, wise women elders that advocate for peace, equality and social justice through music.  Following their set, we were fortunate enough to have Washington State’s 2014 Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, initiate the meeting with a poetry reading from her book, Plume.  The rest of the evening was filled with insights from our keynote speakers: Russell Jim and Leah Aleck of the Yakima Nation; former president of the United Steelworkers Union, Stephanie Greene; Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge; and URS whistleblower, Dr. Walt Tamosaitis.

The highlight of the evening came when two students from our class, Alex and Leslie, joined the guest speakers on stage to field questions from the audience.  This gave the public an opportunity to probe further into their personal concerns.  When the Q&A panel was asked, “How frequently do cover-ups occur at Hanford?” Stephanie Greene replied quickly and resolutely with the answer “daily.”  This question was later followed with, “What would it take for Hanford to truly be considered clean?” Dr. Tamosaitis explained that he did not believe it would ever be “truly clean.”  Russell Jim interjected with his opinion that someday, maybe 500 years from now, it will indeed be clean.  In America’s Nuclear Wastelands: Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup (2008) author Max Power states that, “accountability, openness and public trust” (153) are necessary precursors for a successful cleanup.  As Russell Jim’s statement revealed, many people feel that accepting a lower standard prioritizes cost at the expense of public health and worker safety.

The evening ended on a high note with Washington Rep. Gerry Pollet accepting a signed Student Proclamation of the actions from the DOE desired by students in the clean up effort.  Rep. Pollet not only accepted the proclamation, but he invited the class to join him in presenting it to legislators this January in Olympia.

raginggranniesI felt this was a major success for the class as it takes a stab at affecting policy change head-on.  Over the course of the quarter there were three key approaches presented for implementing change in the cleanup that stood out to me.  The most fundamental approach is raising awareness through meetings, art and storytelling.  The second approach was illustrated in our exchange with Representative Pollet and it involves addressing the government directly by requesting policy change.  The third approach is a hybrid of the two, first brought to my attention by Laurie of The Raging Grannies.  When I asked her what she felt was the most effective approach to demanding action from the DOE at Hanford, she replied firmly with “civil disobedience.”   Indeed, if the cleanup doesn’t start heading in a new direction soon, civil disobedience might be a path of action for citizens to take.

by: Tiffany Smith

One thought on “Hanford: Inequities & Unheard Voices

  1. My Mother died as the result of her work out at the Hanford tank farms. She gave her life in the defense of our great nation yet the USDOL has been very crass about the matter. Let there be no doubt: 1) My Mothers’ story will be told, and 2) Uncle Sam will be made to look foolish.
    All clerical workers at Oak Ridge have been compensated without reservations – It’s time the USDOL do the same for all former workers at Hanford.

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