Senator Wyden has worked for more than 20 years to hold the Department of Energy (DOE) accountable for the cleanup of hazardous nuclear waste from Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. In 1990, he worked to pass legislation that required the DOE to identify a watch list of waste tanks that presented a risk of hydrogen explosions. In 1998, Senators Wyden and John Glenn asked the Government Accountability Office about possible groundwater contamination from leaks in these tanks. From 2006 to 2008, Senator Wyden pressed the DOE about quality control at the waste treatment plant and requested the agency investigate quality standards at Hanford. The DOE issued a report based on the results of the study. In 2013, Senator Wyden went to the Hanford complex to see what progress had been made.
As a senior member and the former chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Wyden continues to press the Department of Energy for a comprehensive plan to safely treat and manage the high-level waste tanks on the site and build a treatment plant to permanently dispose of the high-level waste contained in them. Following reports that six more tanks were leaking, Senator Wyden asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the oversight and management of the Hanford tank farm and since then a continued risk of explosion was expressed by the DNFSB.
After new reports made public last year revealed that as many as 19 additional tanks may be at higher risk of leaking radioactive material, Senator Wyden called for the DOE to consider alternatives to its current strategy, including building a new generation of tanks to more safely store nuclear waste.
Senator Wyden has also been the leading voice demanding protection for whistleblowers who raise concerns about the safety culture at Hanford. Most recently, he asked the GAO to investigate the unchecked retaliation against whistleblowers and the DOE’s lack of response to the recent firings of two former Hanford employees who reported public safety risks.
Managing the cleanup at Hanford is critical to maintaining the health of the Columbia River, which runs through the Portland-Vancouver metro area and is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest.
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