Cleaning up misconceptions about the Hanford Site

Occupy Portland’s latest protest both confusing and misleading

Eliminating corporate personhood. Taxing the wealthy. Placing caps on executive compensation.

…Something about the Hanford reactor?

Occupy Portland’s latest protest both confusing and misleading

Eliminating corporate personhood. Taxing the wealthy. Placing caps on executive compensation.

…Something about the Hanford reactor?

Until last week, Occupy Portland’s outlined goals and demands made a modicum of sense. I could certainly see the logic in abolishing corporate personhood or reevaluating current tax law. Heck, even its questionable idea to cut the defense budget (after pulling out of the Middle East) seemed somewhat rational, given the deficit and how many necessary government programs are floundering.

But when Occupy Portland headed up to the Hanford nuclear reactors in Washington, they lost me. I genuinely have no idea what the idea there was.

The Hanford Site, a mostly decommissioned nuclear production site, has stoked the ire of environmentalists for decades. The site was originally built and opened in 1943 as part of the famous (or infamous) Manhattan Project.

At the time, it was celebrated as a technological marvel. It was the first full scale plutonium enrichment production reactor in the world. The materials it produced were used to create the first nuclear bombs the world had ever seen, including the test ones and the one dropped on Nagasaki.

The site remained active throughout the Cold War, creating tons upon tons of material and radioactive waste. Upon its decommissioning, however, love of the reactor disappeared. Environmental safety checks found that the decades’ worth of waste had contaminated the groundwater and soil around the site.

Because nuclear reactors require ready access to water (for cooling purposes, primarily), the Hanford Site was built close enough to the Columbia River that this contamination could potentially reach the water. And because of inadequate decontamination, the water from the Columbia River used in cooling the reactors was pumped back into the river while still contaminated, resulting in widespread effects.

In 1989, a large-scale cleanup of the Hanford Site was enacted. For more than 20 years now, the site has been undergoing decontamination and purification procedures. This effort, ranging over approximately 586 square miles, has been remarkably quick, considering the volume of work to be completed.

But it’s not quick enough for Occupy Portland.

The protestors at Hanford stated that the cleanup was being dragged on and not enough attention given to it. Despite the fact that they had cleaned almost 400 square miles of the original decontamination zone in 22 years, Occupiers were unimpressed. They insisted the job could be done quicker, and that those charged with cleaning the site were merely trying to “make a career” of it.

But really, the only thing that aligns with Occupy Portland’s goals is the cost. And that was only a very small part of their argument. It’s estimated that the price tag for this cleanup will reach over $20 billion by the time it is completed. A frightening number, to be sure, but considering the importance of this effort, it’s a price worth paying.

Honestly, Occupy Portland’s protest of the Hanford Site is confusing for a number of reasons. It insists that the site must be cleaned but complains about the price tag. Protestors don’t seem to understand that cleaning up a contaminated site requires dozens of highly trained officials and expensive equipment.

To make sense, they would have to choose between defending the environment and defending their financial ideals. They’re not willing to do this, so they’re trying to strike a compromise, and in so doing are simply making themselves out to be no more than unorganized hippies, waffling between what they want reality to be like and how the problem must be resolved in actuality.

Worse yet, they make comparisons to the biggest nuclear disasters in recent memory, going so far as to call the Hanford Site “America’s Fukushima,” despite the lack of danger the reactor poses nowadays. To equate Hanford to a disaster that took the lives of hundreds (during another disaster that killed thousands) is practically an extension of Godwin’s law.

The Hanford Site should not be important to Occupy. Occupy’s goals are clear: improve tax law, eliminate corporate personhood and lessen the income disparity between the lower, middle and upper class.

To Occupiers, I simply say this: Look up Sayre’s law.

To everyone else: Don’t listen to Occupy. The cleanup at the Hanford site is progressing well, especially considering the scale of the work to be done. The protest at Hanford deviates from Occupy Portland’s outlined goals, and the lack of background research misrepresents its capacity as a group.

Occupy Portland should stick to what it’s done so far. There is no reason to protest Hanford, particularly when the cleanup it wants done is already underway and progressing well.