Friday, April 9, 2010
If you lived five miles from town in a home served by a well, would you be alarmed if you knew toxic, corrosive chemicals were buried nearby? Would getting that dangerous material safely removed be your top priority?
Absolutely. If -- make that when -- the chemicals reached the water the health of you and your family would be at risk. A reasonable, rational person would do whatever it takes, as quickly as possible, to take care of this potentially deadly situation.
So why does the U.S. government continue to delay the cleanup up 53 million gallons of radioactive waste contained in 177 tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation?
Frankly, there is no reasonable explanation. The plodding approach to cleaning up the nuclear waste at Hanford has been outrageously irresponsible.
But the Obama administration has taken irresponsibility to a new -- let's say nuclear -- level.
The Obama administration withdrew licensing to build a high-level nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., which means there is now no plan for where to store Hanford's nuclear waste after it is turned into 14-foot glass logs.
Billions of dollars have already been spent at Hanford preparing to turn the nuclear waste into glass logs. The facilities at Hanford, which contains about 70 percent of the nation's nuclear waste, have been specially designed and constructed to meet storage standards for Yucca Mountain.
If Yucca Mountain does not become the nation's nuclear-waste repository, the billions spent at Hanford will have been wasted. In addition, the billions spent preparing Yucca Mountain will have been flushed.
And years of preparation time will have been lost. Meanwhile, some of the waste, an estimated million gallons, has already leached into the soil. The Columbia River is not far away.
People living in Aiken, S.C., a site that also produced plutonium for the U.S. military as Hanford did, are equally concerned about the decision.
The Tri-City Herald and the Aiken Standard of South Carolina wrote a joint editorial condemning the decision, saying it threatens to "keep these deadly legacies in our backyards."
Although we aren't as physically close as these communities, we are close enough. All of Washington state -- and the Pacific Northwest -- should be concerned.
The nuclear waste is at Hanford because that's where the material was made for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan that ended World War II. The bombs and the nuclear waste were created on behalf of the entire nation, and that nation has a responsibility to clean up this mess.
Beyond that, if this material reaches the water it will be a disaster.
Abandoning Yucca Mountain as a repository without providing another plan or prospects for a plan is beyond irresponsible.