State breezes past beryllium risks in stimulus rush to hire for Hanford cleanup

Fellow nonprofit journalism center ProPublica produced this insightful report about how the state of Washington is brushing past the insidious and sometimes lethal risks of beryllium contamination during its stimulus-funded stampede to hire workers to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The report by David Epstein and Krista Kjellman Schmidt shows that the effects are more than just workplace statistics.  They have a human face.

Helicopter, scientists study radioactive waste spread by wildlife at Hanford

For the next 10 days, a helicopter will be hovering over the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in hopes of discovering how animals have spread radioactive salts around the area, reports Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.

In a chopper equipped with aerial radiological survey gear, CH2m Hill Plateau Remediation Co. -- the company contracted by the Department of Energy to conduct the surveys -- will fly just above the site at 80 miles per hour looking for contaminated "hot spots." The idea is that aerial surveys will help narrow the estimated ground contaminated and reduce cleanup costs. The 13.7-square-mile portion of Hanford being surveyed is just south of the trenches that were filled with millions of gallons of liquid radioactive waste during the Cold War.

Understanding how animals contribute to the movement of radioactive contamination has gained attention in recent years. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that scientists were convening this week in Kennewick, Wash., very near Hanford to discuss just that.

The crew will also survey nearby West Lake, an ephemeral wetland once filled with contaminated ground water that seeped up through aquifers, leaving behind traces of radioactive salts.

Tale of two Northwest sagas: Hanford dust-up may be over, while salmon suit marches on

There have been significant developments this week in two of the longest-running environmental sagas in the Pacific Northwest, both pitting locals against the federal government. One is ostensibly resolved, while the other looks like it might never end:

  • The mega-slow cleanup pace of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been the subject of years of fights between Washington and the federal government, with deadlines set and agreed upon, and then promptly broken. This week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu traveled to Washington and inked another deal, again with court-enforceable deadlines, appearing near Hanford with Washignton Gov. Christine Gregoire and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The deal gives the feds another 20 years to get the job done, Scott Learn of The Oregonian points out. (Chu also announced -- and this seems like it should have gotten more attention -- the release of $343 million in stimulus money to build new transmission lines to help use the Northwest's rapidly increasing supply of wind power. Tip of the hat to Anna King of KPLU for covering this.)
  • Meanwhile, down in Portland, environmentalists and the state of Oregon have prosectued a yearslong court case against the Bush administration, claiming its plan to rescue salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers is inadequate. The fish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and many environmentalists say the only sure way to save them is to knock out four dams on the Snake. For a while speculation rose high that U.S. District Judge James Redding would step in and run the federal hydropower system on the rivers, but he seems reluctant to do so.

Feds looking to dump thousands of tons of mercury

More than half the sites being considered for long-term storage of thousands of tons of toxic mercury are in the West. A story by Annette Carey in Washington’s Tri City Herald naturally focused on the site closest to her readers: Hanford Nuclear Reservation, already a candidate for the worst-polluted piece of ground in the nation. (Did you realize that Hanford’s annual cleanup budget is larger than that of the entire Superfund program?) Carey’s story says up to 11,000 tons of the toxic metal need to be stored for up to 40 years because of the Mercury Export Ban of 2008. It turns out mercury is a commodity, traded worldwide, and Congress wants to reduce its availability. (Which will, of course, enrich further whoever is still selling it on the open market, but that’s another story.)  The other six sites under consideration by the Department of Energy are the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado; the Idaho National Laboratory; Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada; Kansas City Plant in Missouri; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.