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Hanford land has potential after cleanup, leaders say

 | Published on 5/22/2010

The Hanford nuclear reservation is getting cleaned up, and some of its land will be available for new uses in 2015, just when Hanford employment is dropping, said Gary Petersen, Tri-City Development Council vice president of Hanford programs.

He and Matt McCormick, Department of Energy assistant manager for central Hanford, took questions on the future of Hanford on Friday at a Pasco meeting of the nonpartisan Columbia Basin Badger Club.

"We need to make this the energy hub of the Northwest," Petersen said.

Long-range plans call for much of Hanford to be preserved as nearly as possible to natural conditions on its 586 square miles, which were converted during World War II for a nuclear reservation to produce plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Much of the land is shrub steppe environment, and land use plans do not consider allowing it to be converted to agricultural use, McCormick said. The area did have small farms, particularly along the river, when the federal government took it over during the war.

There is a concern about using Hanford land for food production, Petersen said. If any concerns about contamination were raised, they could taint the reputation of other Mid-Columbia crops.

However, raising crops for biofuel could be a possibility, he said.

As land is cleaned up, there also should be more opportunities for recreation and access to both sides of the Columbia River, McCormick said. There also could be more access to other parts of Hanford as central Hanford cleanup is completed, he said.

The public should have access to the former townsites of White Bluffs and Hanford, to the Bruggemann ranch and to the view from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, Petersen said.

"But how do you do that without trashing the site?" he asked. Some controls would be needed, he said.

The most immediate need is for the Tri-City community to get behind plans for an energy park on 39,000 acres designated for industrial use, Petersen said. Much of the land is in the southeast corner of Hanford near the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant and adjacent to land planned to be used for scientific research. That land includes the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

DOE expects to have most environmental cleanup completed on all but 75 square miles in central Hanford by 2015, making way for a possible energy park, McCormick said. Those 75 square miles should be reduced to 10 square miles that will need long-term waste management activities by at least 2020, he said. Cleanup in central Hanford is to continue until about 2050.

Having 39,000 acres become potentially available for industrial use at once is highly unusual in the United States, Petersen said. Possible uses could include new modular nuclear, biofuel or solar energy production or demonstration, energy storage or carbon sequestration projects, he said.

Hanford employment is expected to drop in late 2011 when federal economic stimulus money is spent and again as river corridor cleanup is completed by 2015, Petersen said.

Discussions are under way on whether DOE would continue to own the land and lease it for energy park use or might be willing to sell it.

"The Department of Energy remains committed to making land available for projects and initiatives that are consistent with existing land-use designations and supported by the communities in which our sites reside," Ines Triay, assistant secretary for DOE environmental management, said in letters to Richland Mayor John Fox and other community leaders this month.

"Whether that happens through long-term leases or through actual transfer of land should be decided on a site-by-site basis," she wrote.

DOE has a successful record of leasing Hanford land, including to Energy Northwest and for a commercial low-level radioactive waste landfill, McCormick said. Leasing could be done quickly and smoothly, although no decisions have been made on selling vs. leasing, he said.

Although the Columbia Generating Station sits on leased land, Petersen said most companies will not invest $1 billion or more to build on leased land.

DOE recently ended leases for facilities on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain that had been there for decades and had structures torn down, club member Lura Powell pointed out.

DOE will plan a community forum to get more public input on proposed energy parks, McCormick said.

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