March 30, 2009 in City

Hanford active area may shrink

Cleanup going well, official says
Annette Cary Tri-City Herald
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Background and the latest updates

KENNEWICK – The Department of Energy is proposing shrinking the portion of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that will need long-term active management to as little as 10 square miles at its center.

That’s less than 2 percent of the original 586 square miles, said Matt McCormick, DOE assistant manager for central Hanford.

“It’s hard to believe that Hanford could be known only as the Central Plateau in a few years,” said Dennis Faulk, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency. “This is really what we’ve been working toward, and it’s really starting to crystallize.”

Cleanup of the 210 square miles along the Columbia River is progressing well because the Department of Energy and its regulators have a shared vision on what is required, McCormick said. Plans call for having its cleanup completed in 2015.

In addition, the DOE proposes plans for the limited cleanup of remaining nonradioactive debris and some buildings in the 300 square miles of the Hanford Reach National Monument, which once formed the security perimeter around Hanford.

“We are at the junction that we need the same type of vision for the Central Plateau,” the central 75 square miles of Hanford, to focus resources on the next critical steps, McCormick said.

The DOE is proposing that it divide the 75 square miles in central Hanford into inner and outer zones. The outer zone is less contaminated and could be restored to unrestricted use on its surface, similar to the cleanup standard for land along the Columbia River, under the DOE’s proposal. Land use planning then calls for most of the land to be used for conservation.

The remaining 20 square miles or less of the inner zone would be considered an industrial-only zone, and a portion of it would continue to be used long term for waste management. It includes lined disposal areas for radioactive waste, such as the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility and the Integrated Disposal Facility.

It also includes a disposal area for decommissioned nuclear submarine reactor vessels, underground waste tanks that are being emptied, fuel reprocessing buildings and US Ecology, a commercial low-level radioactive disposal facility. Reprocessing buildings, or canyons, may be partially demolished and then have waste permanently disposed of below ground.

Central Hanford was used for processing fuel irradiated at Hanford’s reactors to chemically separate plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. That and other industrial activity occurred primarily in the inner zone, leaving the outer zone of central Hanford less contaminated.

It does not have some of the problems of the inner zone, such as contaminated soil that’s too deep underground to be dug up.

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