March 27th, 2007

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Oregon has strong objections to using the Hanford nuclear reservation to reprocess spent commercial nuclear fuel, a state official said Monday night.

“(The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) makes some amazing claims in terms of its potential to reduce waste volumes,” said Ken Niles, the assistant director of the Oregon Department of Energy. “Pardon our skepticism, but when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

About 150 people, including at least two dozen from the Tri-Cities, attended the Oregon public hearing on a Department of Energy environmental study for GNEP. The meeting followed a March 13 hearing in Pasco that drew a crowd twice the size largely favoring the proposal.

The Bush administration is proposing reprocessing used commercial nuclear fuel to produce more electricity while destroying waste that would otherwise have to be disposed of at a national repository like Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Modern technology would prevent plutonium from being separated from the waste and falling into unfriendly hands, under the plan.

Hanford is one of several sites across the nation proposed for a reprocessing center, a reactor to use the recycled fuel and a research center for the project, together creating up to 8,000 new jobs.

Many of the Oregon residents and others at the meeting opposed a new mission for the Hanford nuclear reservation until contamination is cleaned up from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons. They were skeptical that a government that has struggled to clean up past contamination could make good on promises made under a new program.

DOE is like a detergent company that advertises a new and improved project every month, but nothing really changes, said Dave Howard of Vancouver, Wash., who said he has been attending Hanford meetings since the ’70s.

“There is no guarantee there will be no contamination” from GNEP, said Clifford Casseseka of the Yakama Nation. He also questioned how many years fuel might be stored at Hanford before it is reprocessed.

As the meeting got started, Gerald Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest, demanded to know why DOE had not provided concrete information in opening statements about how much used fuel might be brought to Hanford and through what western Oregon and Washington ports.

His question, called from the back of the room, was met with cheers and boos. Later the moderator had to remind the crowd that everyone deserved a chance to speak. Outside the conference center, a woman beat a drum.

The Tri-Citians at the meeting made a case for how GNEP could benefit the nation and Oregon.

“It is the first real initiative that has the potential to provide global energy security, reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation and improve our environment,” said Jerry Peltier, a retired Hanford worker and the former West Richland mayor.

GNEP would offer Oregon a way to get rid of spent nuclear fuel from the Trojan nuclear reactor, said Linda Alexander of Richland.

“I’m blown away by the hysteria I see tonight,” said Dona Kirk of Kennewick. GNEP provides a way to “clean up and power up,” she said.

“There should be more hysteria,” responded Sabine Hilding of the Oregon-based Hanford Watch. Hanford workers, who would have a short-term gain from the massive build-up for the project, should have no say in a project that long-term would produce “a heap of pollution.”

DOE has said the project would reduce the amount of waste that remains radioactive for thousands of years, and no liquid secondary waste would be stored at the site picked for the project.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement an aide read into the record, said that “reprocessing spent fuel is like King Midas on steroids.” Everything the waste touches will create more waste.

“DOE has not fulfilled its obligation to clean up Hanford, and it’s not clear when it will,” he said in his statement. “Hanford does not need more nuclear waste. It needs less.”