On Jan. 24, 1994, just over 29 years ago, John Wagoner, then manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Richland Operations Office, provided the welcoming remarks to the inaugural meeting of the Hanford Advisory Board (HAB).
Mr. Wagoner said, “DOE, along with our Tri-Party colleagues, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will look to the board to bring unique perspectives and values to deliberations and decisions on major Hanford cleanup issues.”
With those words, at that meeting, the citizens of the Pacific Northwest began a journey to actively engage with the leadership of the Hanford site and provide advice on one of the most complex nuclear cleanup jobs in history.
There are 38 seats on the board today representing a diversity of constituencies – from tribal nations, local interests, environmental perspectives, business groups, public health representatives, state of Oregon officials, university professionals, public-at-large representatives, and the Hanford workforce.
These board members meet throughout the year to learn about the challenges the Tri-Party agencies currently face at the Hanford site and provide informed recommendations and advice to the three agencies on major policy issues related to the cleanup of the Hanford site.
This past year has seen the HAB, like much of the country, return to in-person meetings while continuing to embrace the benefits hybrid options, thereby increasing the reach to representatives across the Pacific Northwest and to the public overall. One other enhancement was to hold meetings of the full board in the evening to be more available to those members of the public.
Through the full board meetings and associated committee meetings, there were numerous opportunities for board members to learn about a variety of Hanford issues through presentations and conversations with representatives from the Tri-Party agencies to become better informed about cleanup issues and plans that affect or impact policy decisions on cleanup actions.
A notable success in 2022 was an in-person orientation for new board members that included a Hanford site tour. The orientation provided an invaluable opportunity for new and old members to meet in person for the first time. HAB leadership created a unique orientation plan geared towards welcoming new members and getting them up to speed on Hanford and the Board.
Lastly, in accordance with the mission to provide policy level advice to the agencies, in 2022, the HAB adopted consensus advice on three topics:
The HAB has issued more than 300 pieces of consensus advice since its inception on myriad topics related to the Hanford site cleanup, such as beryllium, traffic safety and tank leaks. All 313 pieces of advice, including TPA responses, can be found on DOE’s website at hanford.gov/page.cfm/hab/AdviceandResponses.
The HAB’s advice has historically impacted cleanup decisions and contributed to cleanup progress. Many of the components from last year’s leaking tanks advice were reflected in the leaking tanks Agreed Order announced by DOE and Ecology last August.
The upcoming year will involve hearing about the operational challenges underway at the Hanford site including: the commencement of operations of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) and the various activities that must occur to ensure safe and efficient operations; the continued cleanup of the 324 Building; the continued discussion of whether grout is an effective solution to managing the site’s supplemental low activity waste; and the operations of the tank side cesium removal (TSCR) system, to just name a few, so that board members are better equipped to provide high-level policy advice when necessary.
In addition to understanding the operational challenges, the board will be working on how to better engage with their organizations and the public at large, and revising the board’s foundational documents that describe how the HAB operates.
The board recognizes that there has been both significant progress and setbacks at the Hanford site since the shift from an operational mission to the current cleanup mission. While the board works to recognize and provide advice on the incidents or challenges at Hanford, we also try to recognize and celebrate the progress that has been made.
As one board member said at a recent meeting, a lot of what was done at Hanford during the site’s early years was done under the best science of the day. They didn’t have the knowledge or expertise that we do today. Looking ahead 50 years from now, the work we are doing today might be considered rudimentary. That’s how progress goes. We should be focusing on the progress of cleanup today and our ability to influence the future at Hanford.
However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t or won’t continue to address the challenges that impact the progress of the cleanup mission or protection of the workers on the Hanford site.
Board members bring different perspectives on Hanford cleanup to the board and don’t always agree on everything. The beauty of a consensus board is members must work together through differing perspectives to reach consensus and pass policy-level advice. We try to balance both our history and what we, and our constituencies, believe is now in the best interest of the Hanford site and all those impacted by it.
With cleanup not expected to conclude until at least the 2070s, you can expect the board to be around and be involved at Hanford until the job is done.
Consider this as your call to action!
If you or your organization are interested in the status of activities at the Hanford site, attend a public HAB meeting. Each full board meeting is available during both day and evening hours, and if you have something you would like to say, each meeting has time set aside for public comments.
If you or your organization feel strongly about the Hanford site cleanup and you want to be part of the process, then become a member of the HAB. Each year, there are positions available.
For information contact:
Learn more about the HAB and the work we do on USDOE’s website: hanford.gov/page.cfm/hab.
Susan J. Coleman is the chair of the Hanford Advisory Board.
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