Fast Focus 'What are your ideas for access to the Hanford site? Cleanup is priority

November 17, 2013 

Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States, with reports of radioactive leaks continuing into 2013. These radioactive and toxic wastes pose serious health and environmental threats. Unfortunately, our community has a difficult time tolerating criticism or reflective dialog. We know this because whistleblowers who are aware of dangers or safety violations are rejected, isolated and shamed. It is time for a real community conversation. I welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts.

The obvious first order of business is to clean Hanford up. As a non-nuclear scientist, I am concerned why we cannot seem to accomplish this task, since we have been at it for more than 30 years. It is not a question of having enough money or resources, because we have spent hundreds of billions dollars to rectify the situation. We have some of the most brilliant people on the planet working on the problem, so it is not because of intelligence capability. We certainly have highly skilled workers. So why can't we seem to resolve this problem? I think I know some of the issues.

There has always been extreme governmental secrecy around Hanford. Most workers in 1943 did not know their job was making the plutonium for atomic bombs until "the bomb" was dropped on Nagasaki. They certainly did not know about the health and environmental risks. The government did not reveal significant health-related events until forced to do so in the late 1980s by citizen exercise of the Freedom of Information Act. To this day, I wonder how much the public really knows about the health and safety aspects of Hanford.

Another issue is that we are all here to make a living. Good-paying Hanford jobs have been the heart of the community and Eastern Washington is one of the most affordable places to live in the country. Many people have become millionaires here. It is difficult to balance our survival needs with the reality that our total living environment is radioactively contaminated. It appears this cognitive dissonance is pervasive in our collective ignorance and apathy toward Hanford.

Since the Chernobyl disaster, we have become aware that serious accidents can and do occur at Hanford. Yet, our community resists understanding the full effects of Hanford contamination on the Columbia, the environment, animals and the population of the entire Northwest. Apparently, most of us do not want to know.

And finally, let us not forget how complex the intergovernmental relations have been between the U.S. government as represented by its local agency, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the large corporations doing most of the contracted work at Hanford.

To be blunt, it seems our leadership has failed miserably in their responsibility to negotiate the efficient and environmentally sound clean up of Hanford. The termination of the vitrification of high-level wastes contract with British Nuclear Fuels in 2000 is but the latest example of Hanford's contractor problems. On our side of the picture, the community was sold the proverbial bill of tainted goods and we believed the vit plant was the answer to our collective prayers. Obviously, it was not. So, where are we now?

I have raised four children here over the past 30 plus years. I now have a beloved granddaughter. I want us to live in a safe and secure environment, where we do not have to worry about extreme levels of toxicity in our environment, from the ground we step on to the water we drink to the food we eat to the river we play in. I want Hanford cleaned up! I want the government to stop lying to the public. I want the public to become an informed citizenry. I want visionary, transformational and connective leaders who can lead us out of our collective fog to achieve the common good. I want contractors to be hired based on their qualifications and not on the lowest bid. I want workers to feel safe in coming forward with real safety issues and I want them to be rewarded for the professional integrity, honor and commitment they demonstrate in doing so. And I want real diverse citizen participation so that we can use our co-intelligence to resolve the volatile and environmentally dangerous Hanford dilemma. My idea for future access to the Hanford site is to clean it up before any of the public has access to it.

-- MELISSA SOUZA, Pasco

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