On Aug. 06 the world solemnly commemorated the dawning of the Atomic Age, the day 70 years ago when the first nuclear weapon was dropped on a city – Hiroshima, Japan – during World War II. Three days later, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, destroying the port city of Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945.
Half a world away, where plutonium was produced for the Nagasaki bomb and Cold War nuclear arsenals, the past is all too present – and a threat to the future. At Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington, radioactive waste accumulated over decades awaits disposal. But the cleanup history has been one of delays, insufficient funding, cost overruns and political strong-arming. Today, cleanup is 25 years behind schedule.
The state of Washington, naturally, is concerned about having the nation’s biggest collection of nuclear waste in close proximity to the Columbia River. Of particular concern are nine leak-prone tanks holding radioactive waste.
If the tanks are not cleaned up, contaminants could reach the Columbia in the next few decades, according to the state Department of Ecology.
State officials are concerned that the federal agency in charge of cleanup, the Department of Energy, is trying to once again seeking to delay. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has asked a federal judge to hold DOE to cleanup deadlines agreed to in a 2010 consent decree – entered into after it became clear that DOE would miss even earlier deadlines.
DOE claims that greater attention to worker safety has reduced efficiency by 30 to 70 percent, making it unable to meet the agreed-upon cleanup timetable of 2022.
The state of Washington did its part for the WWII effort 70 years ago. The federal government must uphold its obligation to clean up the toxic legacy left over from the race to build the atomic bomb.
This is an excerpt from The News Tribune