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The nuclear facility is on the ancestral land of the tribe.Their voices are ignored in major cleanup talks

Three federally recognized tribes will restore their ancestral lands in southeastern Washington to what they were before they became the most radioactive site at the nation’s nuclear weapons facility, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. have spent decades.

However, the Yakama, the Umatilla Indian Reservation tribal confederation, and the Nez Perce tribe have no influence on the future cleanup of millions of gallons of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks on the Hanford site near Richland. Excluded from negotiations on important decisions to give.

Federal and state officials reached an agreement in May, according to a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Ecology, the site’s regulator, although the agreement didn’t disclose milestones and deadlines for presumably cleanup. likely to include changes in The tribe has privately drafted proposed changes and is prepared for decisions that could threaten its fundamental vision for the place.

“As the original custodians of the area, we have always been taught to leave a place better than what we found,” said the Yakama, who are in charge of the Yakama’s activities in Hanford. said Laurine Contreras, program manager for the environmental remediation/waste management program at . “And that’s what we’re after.”

During World War II and the Cold War, Hanford produced more than two-thirds of US plutonium for nuclear weapons, including the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. Production stopped in 1989 and the site’s mission shifted to: Cleaning up leftover chemical and radioactive waste.

For these tribes, who have acted as important watchdogs in the cleansing process, the region’s history goes back long before Hanford, pre-colonization. It was a place inhabited by people who fished, hunted, gathered, and lived. It has cultural significance. A treaty signed with the U.S. government in 1855 ceded the tribe millions of acres of land and guaranteed continued access.

The U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology have been secretly negotiating since 2020 to reschedule approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in Hanford’s 177 underground tanks. rice field. EPA and Ecology said the insightful eyes of tribal experts have been blocked, but they will eventually have the opportunity to meet with tribes on the matter.

This amendment is expected to affect the three-agency agreement that outlined the Hanford cleanup. Mason Murphy, program manager for the Tribal Confederation’s Energy and Environmental Sciences Program, said the original agreement in 1989 did not involve consultation with the tribes.

“It’s an old wound covered in scabs,” Murphy said.

Government agencies now plan to transform high-level radioactive waste into a glass form and send it to a deep geological repository, Ecology Department spokesman Ryan Miller said. Low-level waste will be converted and permanently disposed of in stainless steel containers at the Hanford facility.

But the United States does not have deep geological repositories to dispose of high-level waste, he said. And, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last month, reliance on an unfinished plant to transform waste into glass “faces ongoing technical challenges.” It says.

Dan Serres, conservation director for the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, said the change in plans to turn high-level waste into the form of glass could have far-reaching implications.

“As far as I know, there is nothing to indicate that an alternative route would protect the interests of the Columbia River, the groundwater, or the tribes who have the right to use the area as much as possible,” he said. Told. .

The tribe has a small team of experts dedicated to cleaning and making an impact.

Through testimony to legislators in the 1980s, the Yakama helped prevent the 580-square-mile (1,500-square-kilometer) site from becoming a deep repository for indefinite storage of high-level nuclear waste from across the United States.

Just recently, tribal experts determined that the U.S. Department of Energy’s work to remove the radionuclide strontium from Hanford’s groundwater would spill into the nearby Columbia River. Yakama Nation’s project tracking resource analyst Rose Ferri said their findings prompted the federal government to reconsider the plan.

“It’s important that someone be on another level of review. ‘Does this really make sense?’ Do you really understand the science here, or did something go wrong?” said McClure Tosh, director of natural resource damage assessment for the Yakama.

Last week, tribal experts visited the Nike Missile site, which was used to protect Hanford from enemy aircraft, to review completed cleanup work and determine options for future restoration.

The Nez Perce Tribe has four specialists in environmental remediation and waste management programs who are responsible for much of the work at Hanford. Program director Jack Bell said a hydrogeologist on the team determined that the Department of Energy contractor had underestimated the extent to which radioactive contaminants could seep into groundwater. Tribe sent a letter to the agency and the model was updated.

“That model will be used many times,” Bell said.

The state ecology department said it plans to consult with the tribes once the draft agreement is further finalized. However, when and in what form that will come to fruition is still unknown. A Department of Energy spokesperson said in a statement that while tribes were not included in the negotiations, “we will consult with tribal states when tribal actions affect or may affect tribal rights or resources. ‘There are cases,’ he said. A regional EPA spokesperson said in a statement that the completion of negotiations would provide an opportunity for “inter-tribal consultation and input prior to public comment.”

Mr Tosh said he would bring up the fact that the Yakama nation was not included in the negotiations at every opportunity.

“A permitting decision has been made, where there will be a significant increase in on-site closure of waste, much more than we had assumed that all high-level waste would be treated and taken off-site. land will remain permanently, it will be a waste disposal facility,” he said. “It goes against the direction and vision of the Tribal Council.”

https://fox40.com/news/national/ap-us-news/a-nuclear-site-is-on-tribes-ancestral-lands-their-voices-are-being-left-out-on-key-cleanup-talks/ The nuclear facility is on the ancestral land of the tribe.Their voices are ignored in major cleanup talks

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