I have blogged on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation many times. I have attended events put on by the United States Department of Energy to solicit public input for the Hanford cleanup. The representative of the DoE were well schooled in public relations but they were not able to soothe the critics who had good reason to be skeptical given the dishonesty and incompetence of past DoE pronouncements and behaviors.
During the past year there have been several incidents at Hanford where more than 50 workers have become ill after they breathed vapors emitted by some of the one hundred and seventy seven underground storage tanks of nuclear waste. The DoE said that doctors cleared all the workers to return to work and that there were no permanent health problems related to the incidents. Some of the exposed workers begged to differ. Now the State of Washington has become involved.
On November 19, 2014 Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General of the State of Washington, stated that "Hanford workers face a very real and immediate health risk." Ferguson said, "The federal government has a responsibility to keep these Washington workers safe, and I intend to hold them accountable." There is a ninety day window for a lawsuit to be filed after the intent to file has been announced. The Washington AG said that the ninety day clock started with his public statement.
In the past couple of decades, tanks workers have reported "nosebleeds, headaches, watery eyes, burning skin, contact dermatitis, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, coughing, sore throats, expectorating, dizziness and nausea," Ferguson said. "Several of these workers have long-term disabilities."
A report issued last month by the DoE's Savannah River National Laboratory on the vapor release situation stated that "the methods used to study the vapor releases were inadequate." One of the problems that the report highlighted was the methods currently in use do not take into account short intense releases of vapors. There are ten major recommendations accompanied by over forty supporting recommendations. These recommendations include " proactively sampling the air inside tanks to determine its chemical makeup; accelerating new practices to prevent worker exposures; and modifying medical evaluations to reflect how workers are exposed to vapors."
The work on the report was triggered by a request from Washington River Protection Solutions(WRPS) which is the DoE's prime contractor for managing the nuclear waste stored at Hanford. Hanford was used to develop and manufacture nuclear weapons for the U.S. arsenal for decades. Nuclear waste disposal was conducted in a haphazard and poorly documented fashion. In the decades since the weapons work halted in 1987, there has been a long string of radiation releases and missed deadlines for cleaning up the nuclear waste that remains.
My research for this blog has uncovered many examples of the incompetence and dishonesty of the DoE and its contractors at Hanford. I am pleased that the State of Washington is moving to take legal action against the DoE's failure to secure the safety of workers at Hanford.