Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in the Columbian and the Walla-Walla Union Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
The Trump administration is not original in eschewing its duty to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. For generations now, the federal government has placed Northwest residents at risk by taking a laissez-faire approach to cleaning up the nation’s most toxic radioactive site.
Because of the growing danger and the exponentially expanding cost of cleanup, the administration should increase the budget for Hanford, place added attention on the cleanup and move forward in establishing a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
The need is evident, even if the people of the Northwest often feel like we are baying at the moon trying to get the attention of the federal government. The Hanford site occupies 586 square miles — about half the size of Rhode Island — near the Columbia River 200 miles upstream from Vancouver. About 56 million gallons of radioactive waste is stored there in 177 underground tanks, some of which are leaking.
Those leaks could eventually reach the Columbia, infecting the water we drink and the fish we eat. They also could contaminate a large swath of land and render it radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years.
But the Trump administration has joined previous administrations in ignoring the crisis. The U.S. Department of Energy released a report in January raising the cost of Hanford’s cleanup to between $323 billion and $677 billion, with work lasting until somewhere between 2079 and 2102. The previous estimate suggested work could be finished by 2066 at a cost of $107 billion.
In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Energy Secretary Rick Perry called the new estimate “a pretty shocking number.” Yet President Trump’s proposed budget calls for a $416 million cut in funding for the Hanford cleanup.
Hanford was created as part of the Manhattan Project that created the first atomic bombs during World War II. It then was the site of plutonium processing as the United States developed its nuclear arsenal. As Sen. Patty Murray explains, “Hanford workers and the people of the Tri-Cities sacrificed to help America win World War II and the Cold War.” But that sacrifice has largely been ignored by Washington, D.C.
As far back as the Reagan administration, the federal government has been pursuing a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Waste is currently held at more than 120 locations throughout the country, and The Washington Post has reported that more than 160 million Americans live within 75 miles of a waste site. Yucca Mountain would accept that waste and store it more than 1,000 feet underground on 1,000 feet of rock.
The proposal would enhance the safety of millions of Americans, but it has repeatedly been undermined in Congress. For Hanford, the plan calls for construction of a vitrification plant that would turn the waste into a more benign glass-like substance before transportation to Yucca Mountain. Two years ago, Energy Secretary Perry said, “We have a moral obligation ... to remove this from as many of these sites as we can and put it in the safest repository.”
That obligation still exists, and it is most profound at Hanford. President Trump should lead the way in triggering a sincere effort to clean up the site and protect Northwest residents, but skepticism remains.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new about that when it comes to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Dems primary change a smart move
Washington state’s Presidential Primary will mean something as part of the nomination process for the Republican and — for the first time — Democratic Party.
On Sunday in Pasco, state Democrats voted to use the primary election to allocate the state’s presidential delegates. The Republicans, who used the primary in 2016, had already committed to using the results in 2020. This is progress. In the past Democrats used only the caucuses, the daylong meetings in which issues are hashed out, to select delegates to the national convention. These are sparsely attended compared to election participation.
Another positive is that the Legislature moved the date of the primary from late May to early March. It all means that the $10 million or so the state spends on holding the Presidential Primary won’t be a total waste of money.
But Washington’s Presidential Primary still effectively leaves out voters who don’t consider themselves Republicans or Democrats and refuse to publicly declare themselves party members in order to receive a ballot that counts. The law allows independent voters to cast ballots in what is essentially a non-counting straw poll.
Of course, we — like many independent voters — would prefer all votes count toward picking the parties’ nominees. But since the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the political parties have a First Amendment right of free association, which means they can dictate who participates in their nomination process, that’s not going to happen. The state’s primary elections for other offices are open to all because Washington adopted a top-two system. It takes the political parties out of the nomination process and calls for two candidates with the most votes, regardless of their political affiliation, to move on to the November General Election.
It has proved to be a good system, particularly for the state’s moderate voters as they can crisscross the ballot to vote for Republicans and Democrats. It also sets up more competitive races in districts that are heavily Republican or Democratic as candidates from the same party face off in November.
But the state can’t impose its will on the Presidential Primary the parties use — at least not right now. Moving the Presidential Primary to March, early in the process, will make the votes in Washington state relevant. And this will give voters more reason to declare themselves Republicans or Democrats so they can cast a ballot for their top choice to serve in the White House.
However, they should keep in mind that their party declaration will become public information — and their mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service will reflect that. They will be on political lists.
But if Washington voters want to have a say in either the Republican or Democratic nomination process, at least they have a viable option for 2020.