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Hanford waste dug up, groundwater cleaned. Thanks go in part to retiring EPA official

The Tri-Cities’ top federal regulatory official for the Hanford nuclear reservation has retired after more than eight years in the job.

Dennis Faulk, the Hanford project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency in Richland, had worked for EPA at Hanford since 1991, the early years of environmental cleanup when decisions were beginning to be made on how the highly contaminated, 586-square-mile site would be cleaned up.

Craig Cameron, an EPA environmental scientist in Richland, has been named acting project manager.

“We’ll miss your wise counsel, your straightforward, always-honest answers to even the most difficult questions, and your steadfast dedication to a safe, reasonable and thorough cleanup at Hanford,” Alex Smith wrote in a letter to Faulk. Smith is the nuclear waste program manager of Hanford’s other key regulator, the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Part of Faulk’s legacy was his successful opposition to the Department of Energy’s plan not to dig up waste burial grounds along the Columbia River at Hanford.

Instead, DOE wanted to put earthen caps over them to keep precipitation from driving contamination deeper into the ground.

“You argued successfully that the long-term costs would be just as much as or more than digging them up,” Smith said.

Faulk’s stand was proven right when hundreds of pieces of highly radioactive, irradiated uranium fuel were discovered buried near the river, she said.

Faulk also considers his work with the state and DOE to come up with the plan to clean up the 220-square-miles along the Columbia River a highlight of his career.

After 25 years of cleanup, most of the work there has been completed. The land included hundreds of buildings and waste sites, plus research and production reactors that have either been temporarily sealed up or torn down.

Faulk was among the officials who helped established the Hanford Advisory Board.

“Who would have thought they would have been such a force in Hanford cleanup?” Faulk asked.

The board – made up of members representing interests such as Hanford workers, environmental groups, labor, business and tribes – has influenced Hanford regulators, serving as a gauge of what is important to the public, Faulk said.

Smith also praised Faulk’s role in the cleanup decision that led to the creation of the 200 West Pump and Treat Facility at Hanford, a sophisticated plant to clean multiple contaminants from contaminated groundwater in central Hanford.

“You did a major share of the work to protect 200 West groundwater” with that decision, Smith said.

Faulk said it was a single line wrote in the decision document – requiring Hanford to reduce its carbon tetrachloride plume – that led to construction of the plant.

Faulk was an agriculture teacher in Toppenish in 1985 when he took what he thought would be a three-month job at Hanford. He would join EPA six years later, bringing hands-on experience working at N Reactor and the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

Faulk, who lives in Grandview, raises cattle, goats and pigs, and plans to return to his roots in education, working as a substitute teacher.

Tags: EPA, Hanford