Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary
March 9, 2015
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Program coordinator and photo: Jim Minkler
Training days: Lenore Romney, who, beginning July 1, will do an encore performance as club president, attended PETS, Rotary’s president-elect training, in Seattle, and reports that a large number of clubs in our region have pretty much the same number of members, 25 to 35.
Contact list: President Jon Heideman and co-chair Brad Stark, who head the corporate sponsor campaign for the club’s annual fund raiser, circulated lists to members, asking they offer prospective companies and individuals who might be willing to fund our effort at the $250, $500 or $1,000 levels.  Tickets to the June 4 Hawaiian-themed evening are provided to sponsors, and count against the recommended quota of ticket sales by members.
Even the half-life of this problem is long
            Making sense of the mammoth cleanup effort at the Hanford nuclear reservation is something Madeline Brown does quite well.
            Brown, a former staff writer and bird-watch columnist for the Tri-City Herald, now has the daunting task of explaining Hanford to the public on behalf of the Washington Department of Ecology.
            She shared the large numbers and long cleanup timeline with the club at the March 9 luncheon.
            The Hanford reservation covers 586 square miles. From 1944 to 1989 Hanford’s main job was to produce weapons-grade plutonium.  The result included 800 separate waste sites along the Columbia and 800 more waste sites on Hanford’s central plateau.
            Now with 9,000 workers, not counting robots, and a $2 billion a year budget, some 900 waste sites have be “remediated,” and six of the nine plutonium production reactors have been “cocooned.”  But much remains to be done.
            Asked if most of the cleanup can be done “in our lifetime,” Brown replied, “in whose lifetime?”
            As the 70-year-plus cleanup effort continues, some club members noted they would be 115 years old or more before substantial progress is achieved.
            Brown’s apt analogies put the daunting challenges in perspective.
            Since politics intervened in plans to store atomic and nuclear waste materials at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the focus is on enough “vit plant” -- as in vitrification processes -- to turn the waste into a more-stable, glass-like material.  That would greatly lessen threats to groundwater and the Columbia River, Brown said.  Some 50 miles of the Columbia flows through Hanford.
            But the final stages of cleanup will not occur until the last half of this century, she said.  It will take another 25 to 30 years to even begin vitrification.
            The state DOE is a supervising partner with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the Hanford cleanup effort.
            When one club member asked if, in the grand scheme, Hanford should be the final resting place for the radioactive waste, Brown replied, “That’s for the voters in the state to decide.”
            Hanford was chosen 75 years ago as a site to produce weapons-grade atomic materials because it was sparsely populated desert site, had plenty of cold water for cooling processes, and Grand Coulee Dam was close enough to provide electrical power.  The driving force in the early 1940s was to beat Germany in the race to build an atomic bomb.  Minimizing and safely handling radioactive waste was not the top concern.
            In this legacy of leaky storage tanks, the cleanup process could be accelerated with larger budgets and more manpower, Brown said, but that doesn’t seem to be a top concern in the other Washington.  Recent estimates put the cleanup effort at $114 billion, with most cleanup completed by 2060 and oversight continuing at least until 2090.
            The Hanford site remains a super-fund problem that even Superman could not fix. Informative tours of the reservation are open to those who want a closer look.