It’s nice to see Hanford make the international news, even if it is over the tortuous cleanup process. In this June 2014 piece for the BBC News Magazine, Taylor Kate Brown does a good job of telling Hanford’s story in a nutshell. She also makes a nice mention of Dr. Kate Brown’s thoroughly researched new book Plutopia, a comparative history of Hanford and Maiak, its Russian plutonium-production, counterpart.
Some important themes come up in this BBC piece: environmental degradation, secrecy, obfuscation, and struggles over power and decision-making. These themes are by no means new at Hanford. Since the Manhattan Engineer District days secrecy has been a paramount virtue at Hanford. As the Site’s management has been given over to scores of engineering contractors and subcontractors, data and reality have been compartmentalized. Hanford is a fractured, fragmented place, each private and governmental entity responsible for their fraction of the big picture.
Brown finishes the piece by highlighting the decades-old dispute over power between the State of Washington and the federal Department of Energy. The state wants reassurances for a firm cleanup timeline. The feds are looking into labor practices and contractor performance. Brown ends the piece in an open-ended way, leaving her readers with the idea that while cleanup has taken place at Hanford much yet has to be done. Since Hanford is a complex, highly negotiated place, cleanup assuredly will mean struggles over power and, ultimately, over the definition of what ‘clean’ means for the nation’s most polluted place.