Hanford's full of holes

  Hanford's full of holes


Whistleblowers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in central Washington now have the federal General Accounting Office on their side. Although nearly a million gallons of waste are seeping from Hanford's underground storage tanks toward the Columbia River, the Department of Energy has long downplayed the problem, assuring critics that the soil layers under the tanks would block the flow of waste (HCN, 9/1/97).


But in December, after the federal agency admitted waste was moving faster than expected, Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ordered the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, to study the issue. Its March report, Nuclear Waste: Understanding of Waste Migration at Hanford is Inadequate for Key Decisions, says the DOE hasn't found out enough about the soil between the leaking tanks and the water table - an area called the "vadose zone' - to make environmentally sound cleanup decisions.


"DOE's past efforts have left the agency unable to answer basic questions about what radioactive and hazardous wastes are in the vadose zone at the Hanford Site," says the report. The report also criticizes the DOE for ignoring previous warnings, and says the agency needs to fund a comprehensive plan for investigating the vadose zone.


The 44-page report is available on the Web at www.gao.gov. A free copy can be obtained by writing to the General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 37050, Washington, D.C. 20013 or calling 202/512-6000.


* Michelle Nijhuis


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