Nuclear cleanup at Hanford must be taken seriously

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The federal government has had good intentions for decades to clean up the radioactive waste stored at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

This week the Tri-City Herald reported the federal government is recommending a phased start to treatment of the radioactive waste. The Department of Energy now proposes treating some of Hanford’s 56 million gallons of waste stored in 177 tanks, of which at least six are leaking, as soon as possible.

The good intentions still mean nothing. It’s been more than 70 years since the nuclear site was established to build the atomic bombs used to help end World War II. When the waste leaches to the Columbia River, it will be an incredible regional disaster that will have ripples throughout the nation.

This is a serious and deadly problem. Federal officials need to be as serious about expediting cleanup.

Unfortunately, Congress seems to have the attention span of a kindergartner. More than $40 billion has been spent over the years preparing to clean up the waste. That’s a huge sum of money, but it hasn’t gotten this process along as far as it needs to be. Hanford cleanup is an enormous undertaking that requires the right science as well as the right equipment.

It’s estimated it will take another $115 billion to get the job done, and that’s assuming the process won’t be two steps forward, one step back, as has been the case for years. That’s an unrealistic assumption.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., attempted to sound optimistic this week to the DOE’s call for cleanup ASAP. She said in a released statement the DOE proposal was a “step in the right direction.”

Still, Murray sent the message to DOE and other federal officials she is expecting actual progress.

“I look forward to reviewing this framework and receiving a full briefing from DOE, and I remain committed to ensuring that DOE provides a full, detailed plan for comprehensively addressing the complicated challenges we still face,” Murray said.

So, too, do we — and everybody else living within 100 miles of the nuclear waste.

This deadly waste is at Hanford because of national security efforts creating the material for the first atomic bombs that were used.

The production of nuclear weapons — and radioactive waste — continued over the years through the Cold War.

The United States has an obligation to fulfill its promise to eliminate this nuclear danger. Getting it done ASAP should be the approach taken.

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