By Annette Cary
Hanford Challenge of Seattle is organizing a Hanford summit, saying that polarization between the east and west sides of the state has prevented discussion of important Hanford issues.
Western Washington and Portland are "concerned about Hanford's environmental impact past, present and future," the advocacy group says on its website.
Tri-City residents "are less concerned with environmental impacts," it said, and characterized Tri-City groups as focused on jobs and economic development.
"This polarization has interfered with the ability to hold a dialogue about the important issues facing the region when it comes to Hanford," the group said, describing Hanford environmental cleanup as "broken."
Hanford Challenge says it is making plans to bring together government representatives, Department of Energy cleanup contractors, the tribes, businesses and the communities "to take a serious look at the situation and begin the hard work of developing a strategic plan that addresses all the issues."
It is bringing together an invited group of participants at 10:30 a.m. today for a three-hour meeting at the Richland Community Center to begin shaping the discussion. The group is working with Seattle University's Organizational Systems Renewal Graduate degree program to "capture the qualities and characteristics" that invited participants want to see in the summit, meeting invitations said.
"Our hope is to introduce a new way of approaching Hanford, from a big picture perspective, as opposed to focusing on cleanup specifics and nitty-gritty details," said the group.
The Hanford Advisory Board is the primary method by which DOE and its government regulators receive guidance on Hanford cleanup, Hanford Challenge said on its website. That advisory board includes a broad range of representatives from both sides of the state and Oregon, including Hanford Challenge.
"However, the DOE itself hires -- and fires -- the facilitator of the advisory board, and thus controls the agenda," Hanford Challenge said. "Therefore, 'controversial' issues seldom get discussed, and rarely are there discussions of long-range or 'big picture' issues such as 'Is the cleanup working?'"
Hanford Challenge said, "With only very little of the radionuclide and chemical inventory stabilized after 30 years of effort, an outside observer begins to wonder when anybody will notice that Hanford is in failure mode."
DOE has outlined its cleanup accomplishments over the last two decades at recent public meetings.
It has dried 2,300 tons of corroding irradiated nuclear fuel and moved it to safe storage, and it has stabilized and shipped 20 tons of plutonium off-site. It has cleaned up 451 of about 800 waste sites along the Columbia River, and it treats 50 million gallons of contaminated ground water each month.
DOE says it's on track to complete most cleanup along the Columbia River by 2015, which would shrink the focus of cleanup to about 75 square miles at the center of the 586-square-mile site.
Remaining work includes the difficult task of treating 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste now stored in underground tanks. Despite delays and price increases, the vitrification plant being built to treat the tank waste is half complete.
The Tri-Party Agreement -- a contract with cleanup deadlines and standards signed by DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington -- provides a long-term cleanup plan for Hanford, said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford cleanup programs for the Tri-City Development Council.
He has concerns about what value the summit will have. TRIDEC believes cleanup is getting done and doesn't see a reason to bring into question the future of Hanford cleanup, he said.
Hanford Challenge did not answer its office phones Wednesday and a message left on the director's cell phone was not returned. Hanford Challenge was formed in 2008 as a spin-off of projects for the Government Accountability Project to monitor and advocate for Hanford cleanup.
Information about the summit is included at www. hanfordchallenge.org under "The Big Issues" in the "How Hanford Works" section.