The public should not expect environmental cleanup along the Columbia River at Hanford to be entirely completed under the Department of Energy's 2015 Vision, said Hanford regulators Wednesday.
Now Washington Closure Hanford's contract for cleanup along the river is set to expire in fall 2015, the end of the fiscal year, but DOE is considering extending it if work assigned to the contractor has not been completed, according to DOE. Gradual layoffs already have begun as work ramps down toward the end of its contract.
The discovery of additional contamination as cleanup has progressed will require more work by the contractor and has increased the cost beyond the budget that may be available. Plus, some cleanup along the river not assigned to Washington Closure was not intended to be completed as part of the 2015 vision, including finishing decontamination of ground water.
Much work will be completed, but perhaps the 2015 Vision oversold what will be accomplished, said Larry Gadbois, scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency, a Hanford nuclear reservation regulator.
Never miss a local story.
"It's a big bite out of the cleanup apple, but it will not consume the apple," he said at a Hanford Advisory Board committee discussion of what work along the river will be completed and what will remain at the end of fiscal 2015.
DOE has focused in recent years on cleaning up land contaminated along the river by the past production of plutonium for the nation's weapons program in order to reduce the active footprint of Hanford from 586 square miles to 75 square miles at its center by fall 2015.
Then the budget and cleanup focus could shift to difficult cleanup work in central Hanford, where irradiated fuel was chemically processed to remove plutonium, under DOE's plan.
"The vision has been a good thing. It has served DOE well," Gadbois said, even if the caveats about what could not be finished by fall 2015 gradually slipped from the message.
"It may not close out as ideally was we expected, but the river corridor vision was excellent," said advisory board member Pam Larsen. "It was optimistic, and it's always good to start with optimism."
The vision has served as a good marketing tool to persuade Congress of the need for cleanup money, said Nina Menard, project manager of environmental restoration for the Washington State Department of Ecology, a Hanford regulator.
But Hanford may have a more difficult time getting money for central Hanford cleanup, she said.
Congress may have had the impression that work basically would be done, said board member Maynard Plahuta.
More extensive chromium contamination found near the former C, D and H Reactors is adding $27 million to the cost of completing cleanup along the Columbia River. The chemical was added to reactor cooling water, but spills and leaks are requiring some contaminated soil to be dug up to as deep as 85 feet.
In addition, Washington Closure discovered that highly radioactive cesium and strontium had leaked from a hot cell in the 324 Building just north of Richland into the soil beneath the building.
Difficult work also remains to clean up the 618-10 and 618-11 Burial Grounds, where containers of radioactive waste were dropped into vertically buried pipes and caissons.
DOE now plans to complete cleanup work at the 618-10 Burial Ground before moving the work crew to the 618-11 Burial Ground, which adjoins the parking lot of the Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest's only commercial nuclear power plant.
Interfacing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates the power reactor, will be tough, said Jon Peschong, of the Department of Energy Richland Operations Office.
"If we have an upset it affects them and vice versa," he said.
DOE is putting its budget now into cleaning up chromium-contaminated soil and some of the least complicated work to clean up the 618-10 Burial Ground.
That puts not only cleanup of the 324 Building, which is acting as a shield over the contaminated soil beneath it, but also the cleanup of the 618-11 Burial Ground at risk of not being completed by fall 2015.
In addition, DOE expects to still be cleaning up ground water contaminated with chromium, strontium and uranium near the river past fall 2015.
Contaminated soil and piping near reactors that are being sealed up to let their radioactivity decay to more manageable levels also cannot be cleaned up while the reactors stand. And the eighth reactor planned to be sealed up, the K West Reactor, cannot be put in storage by fall 2015 because of work to remove radioactive sludge now stored in its cooling basin.
However, the 2015 vision still has focused efforts to perform significant environmental cleanup and reduce the longterm costs of cleanup, Peschong said.
The cleanup along the river now is more than 85 percent complete, according to DOE. Work completed so far includes sealing up, or "cocooning," six of eight reactors, removing about 900 tons of contaminated soil to a central Hanford landfill, shipping weapons-grade plutonium off Hanford, demolishing more than 100 facilities and removing more than 2,000 tons of irradiated fuel from the K Reactors' cooling basins.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org