No city larger than Vancouver has its downtown core on the banks of the Columbia River, the largest U.S. river to empty into the Pacific Ocean. Water from seven states and one Canadian province flows past us from diverse ecosystems ranging from deserts to rainforests.
Therefore, Clark County residents take seriously any threats to the quality of the Columbia River. About 200 miles upstream, radioactive waste is leaking from underground storage tanks at Hanford nuclear reservation, the most contaminated nuclear site in the country. On Friday, state and federal officials announced the threat to underground water systems is worse than previously thought. The number of leaking tanks has risen to six, and more compromised containers are expected to be found among the 177 tanks just north of Tri-Cities.
This is not the first time The Columbian has complained about the plethora of problems among federal government officials including delays, cost overruns and confusion over emerging technologies for cleaning up the site. But a couple of points bear repeating:
This problem in no way belongs to Washington, Oregon or any other state. The federal government created this threat to our river system seven decades ago when the Manhattan Project of World War II started producing plutonium to support the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal. Already, the feds spend more than $2 billion annually trying to clean up Hanford. But this is not the kind of economic development anyone had in mind; 53 million gallons of toxic waste are stored at Hanford.
The importance of haste in addressing this problem is continually ignored by the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies. As U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2011, the Hanford cleanup “is a legal obligation … a moral obligation … a real obligation.”