Our Voice: Thumbs up, Thumbs down

Progress with Hanford cleanup

The decades-long effort to clean up radioactive and other hazardous waste from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been marked with delays, cost escalations and missed milestones. But there have been successes, and significant progress has been made. Most notably, on Monday the Herald reported that workers have started recovering waste from vertically buried pipes in an area referred to as the 618-10 Burial Ground.

From 1954-63, large cask trucks, heavily shielded to provide protection from radiation, carried highly radioactive laboratory waste to the burial ground and dumped that waste into vertically buried pipes. Some were made of steel but most were 55-gallon drums, with tops an bottoms cut out and welded together. Others were constructed from corrugated piping.

Cleaning up the 618-10 and 618-11 Burial Grounds was anticipated to be one of the most complex and challenging excavations in the area along the Columbia River. According to the contractor, Washington Closure Hanford, and the Department of Energy, work is progressing well ahead of schedule. That’s laudable.

Significant progress is also being made on the recovery of radioactive sludge from a double-shell waste storage tank that developed a leak between the inner and outer shells.

From last Thursday night to Sunday night, about 52,000 gallons of radioactive sludge were pumped out of the tank. That leaves 105,000 gallons of sludge to be removed by a March 2017 deadline.

Washington River Protection Solutions, the contractor responsible for the management of 177 large underground tanks, removed most of the liquid that sat above the sludge in early March.

Removal of liquid and sludge waste from these tanks is difficult for a number of reasons. The complexity of the recovery and other information related to the tanks can be found on the state Department of Ecology website.

Cleanup of the Hanford site started decades ago and it will be decades before it’s complete. It’s complicated and at times risky work. It’s certainly one of the world’s most challenging projects.

Thumbs up to the people working diligently toward a solution.

Underfunding fire prevention

Last year will be remembered as one of the worst fire seasons in state history. More than a million acres burned. Hundreds of homes, commercial buildings and other structures were lost. Tragically, so were the lives of three firefighters.

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark asked the Legislature for $24.2 million to fund needed training and fire-fighting resources to improve response times and effectiveness for future fire seasons. He got $6.7 million.

The Legislature did, however, authorize $190 million to cover the cost of last year’s out-of-control wild fire season.

We think the Legislature was “penny wise and pound foolish” by not appropriately funding Goldmark’s request.