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Tribes Protest N-Reactor Project on Hanford Site

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Thursday, October 28, 2021   

RICHLAND, Wash. -- An advanced nuclear reactor proposal at the Hanford site is spurring opposition from local tribes.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy saying they do not support the company X-energy's small modular reactor proposal.

Mason Murphy, energy and environmental science program manager for the tribes, said the Hanford nuclear reservation near the Columbia River is partially within tribally ceded territory under the Treaty of 1855.

"Because of that, we anticipate that the small modular nuclear reactors may have impacts on all of the following resources: Specifically, state and federally listed plants and wildlife; big game habitat; [and] historic properties of religious and cultural significance as defined in the National Historic Preservation Act," Murphy outlined.

X-energy's proposal involves advanced nuclear reactor technology, which could produce more than 300 megawatts of power. The Department of Energy awarded the company $80 million in initial funding in 2020. The company said the reactors are based on safe, clean and affordable technology.

The Hanford Nuclear Site was chosen during World War II to produce much of the country's plutonium for 40 years. That also meant a lot of waste, which is a concern for the tribes.

Murphy argued there is no solution for long-term storage of nuclear waste, some of which has half-lives of 15 million years. He worries what will happen if nuclear projects continue to be built there.

"To me, that would indicate they are likely to continue developing that nuclear mission, and those resources may never become available, if that were the case," Murphy contended.

Murphy noted the Department of Energy has committed itself to pursuing environmental justice and should consider what that means in this situation.

"Some of these larger cleanup sites like the Hanford site represent some of the largest environmental injustice sites," Murphy pointed out. "I think that we need to really ensure that that's being taken into consideration when starting to site some of these technologies."

In 2007, the tribes' board of trustees adopted a policy there should be no new nuclear-energy production at the Hanford site without government-to-government consultation. Murphy added the Department of Energy has agreed to meet but has not yet set a date.


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