Keeping Hanford waste out of ground water and the Columbia River, which supplies Richland drinking water, is the most important part of a new 16,000-page draft permit regulating hazardous waste at Hanford.
That was Vince Panesko's message in Richland on Wednesday night as he gave the community perspective at the Washington State Department of Ecology's fourth and last scheduled public hearing on the draft permit.
The Richland meeting was attended by 28 people, but just two commented, making it the quietest of the public hearings to date.
At hearings in Portland and Spokane, regulating waste imported to Hanford from out-of-state was a key concern. There also were concerns at the Seattle hearing about the vitrification plant being built to treat radioactive waste left from the past production of weapons plutonium at Hanford.
The state permit regulating activities with hazardous chemical waste and waste mixed with radionuclides is regularly updated with public comment accepted on individual changes. But the release of the new sitewide draft permit marks the first time since 1994 that the public has had a chance to comment on the entire permit.
The permit regulates the safe storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste and requires regular inspections. It mandates that spills be reported and cleaned up promptly and that landfills for the waste at Hanford be lined and provide for monitoring ground water. The permit enforces requirements with civil and criminal penalties.
Ecology knows of no plans to bring more hazardous chemical and radioactive waste to Hanford, with a few exceptions, said Ron Skinnarland, a Department of Ecology manager. Those include Naval reactor compartments, some Hanford-related waste generated at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Hanford waste that is being returned to the nuclear reservation after being sent off site for treatment or analysis.
DOE and Ecology have an agreement that no other waste will be sent to Hanford until the vitrification plant is fully operational, which is scheduled to be in about 2022.
If more waste is sent to Hanford, the permit would need to be modified and the public would have a chance to comment then, Skinnarland said.
However, Hanford Challenge passed out information at the Richland meeting saying the state permit also should ban the importation of hazardous chemical and radioactive waste to Hanford, in case of a change in the DOE agreement.
John Howieson of Portland, a representative of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said he was concerned about the slow rate at which leak-prone underground tanks are being emptied of radioactive waste. The waste in single-shell tanks is being emptied into double shell tanks.
The tanks had been emptied at an average rate of about one a year since work began to remove nonliquid waste about eight years ago.
"To go along at one a year is not acceptable," Howieson said. At that rate it will take 141 years to empty the remainder of the single-shell tanks, he said.
He wants the state permit to require a 31-year schedule.
The Department of Ecology is continuing to work on the part of the permit that will cover single-shell tanks and expects to have it available July 1.
Panesko also commented, in addition to being scheduled to provide local perspective for the meeting. He has followed Hanford closely as a member of the Hanford Advisory Board, but spoke as a Richland resident, when Pam Larsen, executive director of Hanford Communities, was unavailable.
Speaking later during the public comment portion of the meeting, he recommended that the state permit ensure that DOE keep a close watch on radioactive tank waste fed into Hanford's evaporation plant to reduce liquids and allow double shell tanks to hold more waste.
Waste with too much ammonia has been fed to the plant, causing erosion in its off-gas system, he said.
Comments on the draft Hanford Facility Dangerous Waste Permit may be sent to the Department of Ecology at Hanford@ecy.wa.gov until Sept. 30. Comments also may be mailed to Ron Skinnarland, Department of Ecology, 3100 Port of Benton Blvd., Richland, WA, 99354. The draft permit is posted at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/nwp under the permitting section.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org