Possible mercury storage at Hanford concerns state

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerJuly 29, 2009 

The state of Washington is concerned about the possible impacts on the environmental cleanup of the nuclear reservation if the Department of Energy picks Hanford for long-term storage of the nation's mercury.

DOE heard public comment Tuesday night in Richland as it begins to prepare an environmental study of Hanford and six other sites being considered to store mercury. The hearing drew about a dozen people, but only Ron Skinnarland, a Washington State Department of Ecology manager, commented for the record.

A few others attending the meeting said afterwards they had concerns.

DOE is looking for one or more sites to store an estimated 8,300 to 11,000 tons of mercury from private sources over 40 years. It also may decide to store 1,300 tons of mercury left from its nuclear weapons program at the new site.

Storage sites are needed after the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008 prohibited the export of mercury beginning in 2013 and required DOE to have facilities ready then to manage and store excess mercury.

The state of Washington has supported the need to prevent mercury exposure and pollution in the environment, which is the goal of the new federal law.

But the state wants to make sure that as Hanford is considered for storage of mercury, the new use for the site would not interfere with its environmental cleanup, Skinnarland said. It also is concerned about cleanup money being diverted for the storage program, he said.

The state supports a "rigorous and thorough" study of possible sites to provide more information for the public and the state and to help make the best decision, he said. The state is working on more comprehensive written comments for DOE.

But Harriet Higgins of Richland has made up her mind.

It's unreasonable to require Hanford to store the nation's mercury, she said after the meeting.

"The citizens and the land itself have done enough," she said.

Barbara Harper, the environmental health program manager for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the tribes support cleaning up, restoring and protecting the 586 square miles of Hanford.

The tribes believe the land should be cleaned up before new uses are considered, she said. The mercury storage plan also may raise environmental justice issues, she said. The tribes also are developing written comments to submit to DOE.

The Tri-City Development Council did not comment at the meeting, but Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs, has said that Hanford should not become the nation's waste dump. The community is looking forward to having Hanford cleaned up and then moving on to other uses for the site, such as research or production of clean energy, he said.

If Hanford is picked for mercury storage, a new building might be constructed in central Hanford or the 255,000-square-foot Fuels and Materials Examination Facility near the Fast Flux Test Facility might be considered for use.

Hearings on the mercury storage study already have been held in Grand Junction, Colo., and Kansas City, Mo., which have nearby sites under consideration. The Colorado hearing drew about 90 people and the Missouri hearing drew about 40 people with most who commented opposing mercury storage in or near their communities. The Idaho governor also has said he will fight the Idaho National Laboratory being used for mercury storage.

Public comments will be accepted until Aug. 24 at www.mercurystorageeis.com or may be mailed to David Levenstein, EIS Document Manager, DOE, P.O. Box 2612, Germantown, MD 20874. A second public hearing will be held in the Northwest at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Red Lion Portland Convention Center.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanford news.com.

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