Progress made on Hanford cleanup, but challenges remain

It’s been almost 25 years since the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington Department of Ecology entered into an agreement to clean up the Hanford Site — widely considered to be the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation.

The 586-square-mile site located on the Columbia River north of Washington’s Tri-Cities was responsible for producing most of the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program during the Cold War, as well as hundreds of billions of gallons of hazardous waste before production ended and cleanup began in 1989.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the estimated date for the cleanup’s completion is still almost 35 years away and could possibly stretch longer due to delays.

Progress, however gradual, is being made on decommissioning the site, though. On Monday, the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board — a 20-member advisory panel made up of state, tribal, and citizen members — met at the Best Western Hood River Inn to listen to presentations on the cleanup efforts.

The venue, which lies a stone’s throw from the Columbia, was a fitting one as the Oregon Department of Energy has cited that its primary role is “to ensure that cleanup decisions are protective of the Columbia River.”

One of those decisions pertains to how the USDOE can stanch the bleeding of hexavalent chromium from out of the Hanford Site and into the groundwater supply that feeds into the Columbia about two-and-a-half hours northeast of Hood River. Hexavalent chromium is often used, as it was at Hanford, to help stop corrosion in metal piping, but is a known carcinogen.

Ken Niles, administrator of the ODOE, reported that crews are currently digging pits upwards of 85 feet deep to remove the chromium plumes and noted that the efforts had “tremendously reduced the amount of chromium in the river.” However, Dale Engstrom, natural resource specialist with ODOE, reported that chromium is “on a good day, very challenging to remove.”

In addition to the ongoing chemical removal, Niles reported two structures in the “300” area of the facility were scheduled for removal by the end of the month. The structures include a defunct underground plutonium test reactor as well as a vault containing two 15,000-gallon tanks that once accepted laboratory waste.

Niles said the structures were responsible for a good deal of contamination in that particular area of the facility.

Despite the progress, the USDOE lists 67 single-shell waste storage tanks as “assumed leakers” and one tank with an active leak.

Back in early 2013, it was thought six single-shell tanks were actively leaking, but USDOE recently determined that only one tank, T-111, was actively leaking.

Niles reported that progress on cleanup could be hindered as states continue to battle each other for federal funding for polluted sites.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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