State urged to take tough stance on Hanford tank waste

The state of Washington needs to take a hard line with the Department of Energy on the 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste held in underground tanks at Hanford, said speakers at a public hearing in the Tri-Cities this week.

The Washington State Department of Ecology heard comments on the newly released section of its draft Hanford Facility Dangerous Waste Permit that covers Hanford's leak-prone, single-shell tanks. About 20 people attended the Richland meeting, with additional people on a call-in line.

The state needs a schedule from DOE on how it will empty 149 single-shell tanks by a 2040 legal deadline, said John Howieson of Portland. Fewer than 10 of the tanks have been emptied so far and work is not progressing at a rate that will come close to having the remainder emptied by 2040, he said.

Not enough personnel and equipment are available and probably not enough budget either, he said.

There are alternatives to the current system, which has allowed radioactive waste to leak into the soil starting as early as 1944, said Dirk Dunning, who works for the state of Oregon but spoke as a member of the public.

More double-shell tanks could be built or DOE could consider a previously proposed technology that would inject salt water down a series of wells to freeze the soil solid and prevent the spread of leaked waste, he said.

Tom Carpenter, the executive director for Hanford Challenge, urged the state to use the new permit to better protect tank farm workers from hazards, including chemical vapors.

The state could make provisions for supplied air for workers and better monitoring of vapors and could require more information be provided to workers, he said.

"So far, the state has not chosen to exercise its authority on this," he said.

He also said the state needs rigorous contingency plans in case new tank leaks are discovered.

Other speakers, mostly from the Seattle area, called for prohibitions on more waste being brought to Hanford until tank and other waste is cleaned up.

Public comments on the draft permit may be emailed to the state at Hanford@ecy.wa.gov or mailed to Andrea Prignano, Department of Ecology, 3100 Port of Benton Blvd., Richland, WA, 99354. The deadline is Sept. 30.

Additional public hearings are planned Sept. 13 in Portland and Sept. 19 in Seattle.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com