Department of Energy

Hanford Nuclear Reservation: Big problems at nation's #1 dump, but stimulus funds speed cleanup

Maybe it was the post-Earth Day glow, or perhaps the prospect of a long-delayed vacation. But today when I and colleagues from the Society of Environmental Journalists visited the most contaminated site in North America, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, I was surprised by the amount of progress that has been made on cleanup.

Now, there's no doubt that Hanford is still a mess. The project is starting to look like it will cost roughly twice as much and take roughly twice as long as originally estimated, as Karen Dorn Steele established on our tour. There's been no shortage of screwups and missteps in the cleanup process. Radioactive waste is leaking into the only part of the Columbia River that still flows naturally, onto the spawning grounds for that so-very-rare commodity on the Columbia, a healthy salmon run.

And, of course, there’s the seemingly never-ending quest to build what has begun to sound like a figment of someone’s imagination: A plant that encases the worst of the wastes in a glass-like substance for longterm storage. Now it’s supposed to be done in 2019. I’ll believe it when I see it.

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.

Grants fuel clean energy, but has health care fight slowed the pace?

If you browse today's Washington and Oregon headlines, you'll probably notice a beefy portion devoted to renewable energy grants.  No surprise, considering that just two days ago the winners of the first round of the government's renewable energy grants were announced, dispersing a total of $503 million to 12 companies -- 10 of them wind power, 3 of which are in Oregon, writes Eric Mortenson of The Oregonian.

But wind power isn't the only alternative energy source receiving attention. My own Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington has been awarded $500,000 for a project that converts dairy cow manure into clean biomethane fuel for local buses, reports the Puget Sound Business Journal. And not far south, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory received $6.8 million to  study how tidal, wave and current energy from the region's waterways might affect marine wildlife, writes Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.

The stream of funding for renewable energy takes place at a key time. Meandering through the Senate right now is an energy and climate bill that would require all utility companies to obtain 6 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind and water. But while the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed through the House in May, some believe the current emphasis on health care has moved the bill to the Senate's back burner.