Guest column: GAO is looking at Hanford through a microscope

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week recommending that DOE look for alternatives for creating new compliant tank space for wastes from the single-shell tanks (SSTs), including the possibility of building new double-shell tanks (DSTs). This report is fairly well done and accurate, but contains no surprises, nor any new information.

Unfortunately GAO’s report was specific to a request from Sen. Wyden. And, like Gov. Inslee with the Consent Decree, the study focused singularly on the Hanford tanks.

GAO’s recommendations were done in a vacuum, and did not consider any other potentially higher or more immediate cleanup risks on the Hanford site. The GAO report also ignores Congressional budget constraints, which only become more severe in fiscal year 2016. However, if Sen. Wyden thinks he can get additional funding to build new tanks, and gets it, we will applaud him!

The GAO report does not take into consideration other risks at Hanford, such as K-Basin sludge, 324 Building, WESF, or even a waste site just north of the 300 Area called 618-10. K-Basin and 324 building are located just a few hundred yards from the Columbia River. Any tank farm leaks to the groundwater on the Central Plateau are expected to take something on the order of 100 years or more to reach the Columbia River.

K-Basin sludge, on the other hand, is located within a stone’s throw of the river, and under a catastrophic accident like a 300-year flood, or major earthquake, it is those areas closest to the river that are most vulnerable and could be the highest risk to the public.

The GAO report gives no consideration to any of these other public risk cleanup sites across the Hanford site, which is why we think they have looked at Hanford cleanup through a microscope, and not through a wide-angle lens that examines the entire Hanford site. We believe such a complete site-wide review of public risks would lead to a different report outcome from GAO.

TRIDEC agrees with the senator and governor that DOE should develop alternate plans for emptying the aging tanks, both SSTs and DSTs. We, too, would like those tanks emptied. However, we also believe a more holistic view of Hanford cleanup, one that evaluates all potential risks across the site, is a far better approach.

We suspect that if Office of River Protection were offered additional funding (with no reductions of budget elsewhere on site), and had their choice, such additional funding would not go toward building new tanks.

DOE’s budget balancing job is tough enough without the singular focus on just one contaminated area of the site.