Hanford board: Spend money on cleanup, not study

PUREX is among the facilities at Hanford yet to be cleaned up.
PUREX is among the facilities at Hanford yet to be cleaned up.

No more money should be diverted from Hanford environmental cleanup to pay for a $4 million study evaluating risk at the nuclear reservation, according to the Hanford Advisory Board.

The board agreed Thursday at a meeting in Richland that there is insufficient value in continuing the study. Preliminary results, covering about half of the Hanford areas and facilities requiring cleanup, were released Aug. 31 by the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation. CRESP is an independent, multi-university group providing research and assessment to DOE on cleanup work.

“Regardless of why the CRESP report was commissioned, we are concerned that its findings may be used to help justify doing less cleanup at Hanford,” said the letter sent by the board to Monica Regalbuto, the DOE assistant secretary for environmental management.

CRESP officials have said that the review’s identification and characterization of potential risks at Hanford is intended to provide information that will help guide decisions about the order in which remaining cleanup work should be done.

“It’s important to take a step back periodically to assess what is remaining and how to think about the challenges ahead,” said David Kosson, the review’s principal investigator, in a previous discussion about it. Remaining Hanford cleanup is expected to take 50 more years and cost more than $100 billion.

Risks have been known for a long time.

Board member Susan Leckband

Among observations in the initial draft released was that cleanup of soil contaminated with highly radioactive cesium and strontium beneath the 324 Building near the Columbia River could be delayed because the spill does not appear to be migrating.

The preliminary analysis looked at contaminated groundwater, underground tanks holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste and high-risk facilities like the Plutonium and Uranium Extraction facility, better known as PUREX. The second phase of the study, if funded, would include a look at more of the huge chemical processing plants in central Hanford and some waste sites where large amounts of contaminated liquids were dumped into the ground.

“Risks have been known for a long time,” said advisory board member Susan Leckband. She called the study an academic exercise that should not be extended, given its cost.

Members said that good processes already are in place to provide a blueprint for cleanup, including the Tri-Party Agreement and a system of studies followed by “records of decisions.” They are based on extensive scientific analysis, including risk analysis, and public review and input, according to the board.

We do not see a value in spending cleanup dollars to complete this study.

Hanford Advisory Board letter

“Because of the involvement from the state of Washington and Oregon, tribal nations, the Hanford Advisory Board and other stakeholders, we believe the risks related to Hanford cleanup processes are being properly considered in current policies and procedures,” the letter said.

The process should not be circumvented, said board member Pam Larsen.

If all of the $4 million cost of the study had been available for environmental cleanup, significant progress could have been made, the board said

The portion of the report written so far covers the most challenging cleanup work remaining at Hanford. The information produced so far is interesting, but it appears unlikely that continuing the study will provide meaningful insights, the board said.

“We do not see a value in spending cleanup dollars to complete this study,” the board told Regalbuto. “The board strongly recommends that you not proceed with the remainder of the project.”

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews