I know that I seem to drone on about all things nuclear, raising stories that happen far away from Vermont; but I do so because so little attention is paid to the topic outside of any immediate crisis.
As with all technical issues, most of us are ill-equipped to connect the dots and fully understand how systemic dysfunction occurring thousands of miles away may predict trouble we might ultimately face close at home.
Today’s tidbit was gleaned from the pages of Enformable, which consolidates a lot of nuclear-related stories from across the globe. Links are provided in Enformable’s post to the original news sources.
It is a tale of government contracting for nuclear decommissioning which has a predictably bad trajectory.
The story concerns the Hanford Reservation in the desert region of Washington State, where [part of] the Manhattan Project was carried out and plutonium produced for military use since the end of World War II.
In all, nine nuclear reactors were built at Hanford, the last of which ceased operation in 1987. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now estimates that as a result of the nuclear work done at Hanford’s facilities, 43 million cubic yards of radioactive waste were produced and more than 130 million cubic yards of soil ultimately were contaminated.
According to Alternet (also quoted above):
During Hanford’s lifespan, 475 billion gallons of radioactive wastewater were released into the ground. Radioactive isotopes have made their way up the food chain in the Hanford ecosystem at an alarming rate. Coyote excrement frequently lights up Geigers, as these scavengers feast on varmints that live beneath the earth’s surface. Deer also have nuclear radiation accumulating in their bones as a result of consuming local shrubbery and water. The EPA has deemed Hanford the most contaminated site in North America
Hanford also has the distinction of being the most costly environmental clean-up of all time, thanks in no small part to the current efforts by Bechtel National Inc. to run the bill up as high as possible.
Less familiar to us than the infamous Halliburton, Bechtel has left its own trail of shady and shoddy contracting activity, mostly with regard to pipelines. But it seems, the more spectacular the failures, the more likely the failing company is to get a second, third and fourth bite at the apple of government
contracts. ACORN should have been so lucky!
…And Bechtel got to bite off the biggest environmental clean-up contract of all time at Hanford. The numbers are staggering.
Bechtel holds the $12.2 billion contract to build a plant to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from the past production of plutonium from the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Despite decades of cleanup efforts and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, only a tiny fraction of Hanford’s radioactivity has been safely contained
Apparently even this isn’t going to close the books on Bechtel’s compensation:
Bechtel has submitted a request for at least part of a $15 million incentive payment for reducing sodium. DOE still is evaluating whether payment should be made.
Despite decades of cleanup efforts and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, only a tiny fraction of Hanford’s radioactivity has been safely contained, and the situation appears to be getting more polarized if not hostile.
So contentious is the issue within the Department of Energy that a DOE employee claims she was detained and prevented from leaving a meeting at the Hanford facility.
No doubt Bechtel, which has its fine hand in Fukushima remediation as well, will be rewarded with an even more lucrative contract in the future.
Which brings me to my point. Does anyone really know how much decommissioning a nuclear reactor like Vermont Yankee will cost by the time the loser in Entergy’s game of hot potato finally has to pony up? We know that the reserve fund is significantly less than the estimates; but how realistic are those estimates; and how much power over cost-containment would the state ultimately have (if worst came to worst) when the DOE’s own contractors are able to so successfully game the system?
What was that claim again? “Cheap, reliable and clean?”