Hanford Advisory Board wants DOE to slow down on transferring areas to long-term program

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 8, 2013 

The Hanford Advisory Board is asking the Department of Energy to slow down on transferring parts of Hanford from its environmental cleanup program to its long-term stewardship program.

Late last summer, DOE announced that it had finished cleaning up a reactor area at Hanford for the first time.

An industrial complex with more than 100 buildings that once surrounded F Reactor had been torn down. Contaminated soil and waste sites -- where debris was disposed of in unlined pits and trenches -- had been dug up. What remained of Hanford's former experimental animal farm, including buried carcasses and radioactive manure, had been hauled off.

DOE is preparing to transfer control of the area around the reactor from Washington Closure Hanford, the cleanup contractor that is finishing up environmental cleanup at Hanford along the Columbia River.

Control would be passed to Mission Support Alliance, the contractor that provides services to DOE across the Hanford nuclear reservation, as part of Hanford's long-term stewardship program.

"The key implied concept is that the LTS (long-term stewardship) program assumes responsibility for a remediated site after all cleanup has been demonstrated to be complete," the board said in a document it approved Friday to be sent to DOE.

But at the F Reactor Area, a final decision on required cleanup has not been issued and is not expected to be issued for at least a year, the board said. Turning the area over to long-term stewardship before that seems illogical, creating confusion of responsibility and authority, the board said.

"It is sending the message that we are done before we are done," said board member Liz Mattson.

More waste sites needing cleanup could be identified, but the current long-term stewardship contract does not include any provisions to address that, the board said.

In addition, only surface cleanup has been completed in the area around F Reactor, board members said.

Much of the reactor still stands. It has been cocooned, or put in temporary storage by tearing it down to little more than its radioactive core, sealing it up and reroofing it. It is planned to stand that way for 75 years to let radiation decay to more manageable levels.

The area also has contaminated groundwater, and there is a suspicion that there may be contamination beneath the reactor from its former pool that held irradiated fuel under water.

DOE wants to start moving areas of Hanford to long-term stewardship as most work along the Columbia River, other than groundwater cleanup, is completed and the River Corridor Contract ends. The support services contract, now held by Mission Support Alliance, is in place for a longer term at Hanford.

DOE's goal is for better monitoring and follow-up of sites under long-term stewardship than may be done under cleanup programs, where the focus is on completing a project and moving on, said Jeff Frey, of DOE.

DOE may need to use a different term than long-term stewardship or better describe it to make sure it is understood that DOE may have to return to areas to address environmental cleanup or other issues, he said.

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