Selling some Hanford land can attract new business

For years, the long-range vision for Hanford has been to clean it up and put it to good use.

As early as 1959, the Herald published an editorial that said, in part, "The fact that there is optimism for the future is encouraging. While there won't be any new industrial plans at Hanford next week, there is the very distinct possibility that there will be one sometime in the future."

The crux of that editorial was that down the road, all that radioactive waste might be useful. Maybe people would use it to preserve food or find some other functions.

Good ideas, but not exactly the type of industry we see in Hanford's future these days. And yet, the editorial's underlying premise remains sound 62 years after it was written.

As the community again looks to develop "new industrial plans at Hanford," exploiting the site's existing assets is the best bet.

Those assets include a technologically savvy work force, plenty of land, world-class research capabilities and a growing energy industry.

As outlined in the Hanford Comprehensive Land Use Policy, most of the site will be set aside for preservation and conservation.

But about 10 percent of it already has been earmarked for industrial use. There's no reason it can't become the anchor for a new energy park that will lead the nation and world in clean and renewable energy solutions.

TRIDEC and the governor's office have a potential buyer for part of the land in sight right now.

It is a renewable energy company that would bring about 2,000 new jobs (many of them family wage) to the community. Additional details haven't been released.

We do know that the holdup for this and many other businesses considering coming to the Hanford site is that they want to own the land before they commit a few billion dollars into infrastructure and buildings.

We don't blame them.

True, the lease arrangement has worked out for Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station. But it's not an agreement most businesses are willing to duplicate.

We can't endorse a project based on the little information that has been made public, but the company's interest in Hanford reinforces our stand on the site's future.

The small part of Hanford that has been set aside for industry and development should be available for sale to developers.

So it's on an old nuclear site? Prospective buyers already know that. Any environmental problems can be identified before the sale, and liability for undiscovered hazards that might crop up can be negotiated as part of the sale.

We're glad to see the Department of Energy considering the option of selling land. We hope they are considering it seriously.

Obstacles exist. DOE is responsible to a whole handful of stakeholders: former property owners, tribes, citizens, taxpayers and the nation.

But it also owes a debt to the community. Paying it back means helping the Mid-Columbia's economy wean itself from dependence on Hanford.

We're confident DOE recognizes that debt.

In 2011, it still is encouraging to see some optimism for the future.