We can't be the only ones plagued with mounting angst over the vitrification plant.
Questions about cost, schedule and safety have generated a lot of news stories in the past year. With each new report, we fret over what it means for the Mid-Columbia.
But as an editorial board, we've been reluctant to comment.
Much of the fuss regards litigation, and we're only occasionally conceited enough to think our insight surpasses the opinions of jurors and judges who have spent days and weeks living with the evidence.
In the case of Hanford whistleblower Walt Tamosaitis, who is claiming discrimination for raising safety concerns at the vit plant, we're happy to leave resolution to the courts.
In addition, most of the vit plant's troubles involve highly technical issues that are well beyond our expertise.
Sure, we understand that design engineers must eliminate any risk of a criticality accident inside the plant's mixers, which are needed to prepare Hanford's tank wastes for treatment.
But we'll never be able to evaluate the safety of any particular design. Like nearly everyone else on the planet, we're at the mercy of the experts.
And when the experts disagree, we're concerned.
Even if the surge in radiation resulting from a criticality incident is safely contained, the mess trapped inside the mixer would present an expensive and dangerous challenge.
With the cleanup of the nation's most dangerous stockpile of nuclear wastes at stake, we can't afford that kind of trouble.
While the technical and legal aspects leave us without a lot of advice to offer, this massive public works project includes social issues that need attention.
Public confidence is crucial to the plant's success, and each new concern that's raised can only erode that needed trust.
A highly critical article by Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian raised the profile of Tamosaitis's safety concerns, turning a national spotlight on what had largely been a regional issue.
The Government Accountability Office's investigation of the Department of Energy's management of the vitrification plant that's under way may not be a direct result of the article.
The request for the GAO review came from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., both of whom serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and didn't need the LA Times to tell them about safety issues at the vit plant.
Even so, Vartabedian's piece surely reinforced their resolve.
We're hoping for signs of improvement when the Department of Energy and Bechtel National, the primary contractor on the vit plant, respond to GAO's findings.
We were disappointed in their initial reaction to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's criticism of the project's safety culture.
The board looked at policies and attitudes toward safety at the vit plant and concluded that behavior by DOE and contractor management reinforces a subculture that deters workers from reporting and management from resolving technical safety concerns.
Frankly, DOE and its contractor have sounded defensive when addressing DNFSB's concerns. The message was that they'd reluctantly accepted the findings but couldn't agree with them.
As a result, the board questioned whether needed improvements would occur.
"The disparity between the stated acceptance and disagreement with the findings makes it difficult for the board to assess the response," defense board Chairman Peter Winokur wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Happily, that initial resistance seems to have been temporary.
The DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security recently announced plans for a return visit to follow-up on questions about the nuclear safety culture at the vitrification plant.
Their first assessment raised questions about whether workers were comfortable enough with the process to candidly discuss safety concerns.
DOE's decision to conduct a new set of interviews under conditions more conducive to candor is a good sign that the department might start to take criticism about its safety culture to heart.
We're reserving judgment for now.
Certainly, DOE and Bechtel had legitimate qualms with the safety board's findings. But by appearing to focus more on their differences with the board's findings -- rather than fixing the problems raised -- Hanford officials undermined efforts to restore public confidence.
Many of us rely on the panel's collection of nuclear experts to provide the oversight we're not capable of providing for ourselves.
Anything less than DOE's wholehearted pledge to fix every problem is unnerving. Signs of serious attempts to remedy any shortcomings would be reassuring.