Editorial: Hanford has been an ‘unlimited spigot’

The following editorial ran May 5 in the Daily Astorian regarding the money poured into cleanup efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation:

If a massive amount of money is available for spending, at a minimum there will be waste, perhaps fraud and maybe theft.

The larger the amount of money, the bigger the magnet. We’ve seen that in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The same thing happens in the private sector. And it seems to be happening domestically at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The Richland-based journalist Anna King said Thursday that 14,000 Department of Energy employees are working on Hanford’s cleanup. And work is stalled, perhaps hopelessly, at the multistory vitrification plant.

Also last week, Sen. Ron Wyden decried the lack of progress in the Hanford cleanup. “Obama has no plan,” said Wyden.

“It has been an unlimited spigot. It is astounding the amount of money that’s been laid out.”

Hanford was an enormously important, but secret, installation of World War II. Its B Reactor made radioactive material that became the ingredient for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s unconditional surrender.

When things are done in secret, there is little skepticism and no cross-examination. From the start, Hanford officials failed to recognize they were creating a mess that would haunt our region for eons.

Wyden raises the prospect that national willingness to clean up Hanford might wane. “I’m not sure the rest of the country will go along with this much longer,” he said.

Mismanagement is the polite word for what’s going on at Hanford. While Hanford is no longer off limits to the public, the vestige of secrecy lingers. Anna King described a situation that is long on massive reports and short on candor.

She is also correct that Hanford is “the legacy that we were handed.”

We must contain the damage that is sitting there, perilously close to the Columbia River.

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