ODOE Staff Take Part in Annual Hanford Emergency Exercise

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Each year, Oregon Department of Energy staff join representatives from Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon State University, and two eastern Oregon counties to participate in the annual Hanford Emergency Exercise to test our emergency preparedness program.

This year’s exercise, conducted on May 30, had a chilling scenario. As part of the drill, ODOE staff were informed of an equipment handling incident at the Hanford Nuclear Site that resulted in an explosion. One death and multiple injuries were reported, and there was no word as to whether or not there had been any release of radioactive materials outside the building. Following protocol, the State of Oregon set up an Agency Operations Center at the Oregon Department of Energy in Salem as a precaution, and staff from the various agencies and organizations got to work.

About 29,000 Oregonians live in Boardman, Irrigon, Hermiston, and Umatilla – communities located within the 50-mile nuclear emergency planning zone for the Hanford site. An actual fire, explosion, or other accident involving Hanford's contaminated facilities or underground radioactive and chemical waste storage tanks could cause an airborne release of hazardous radioactive materials, putting Oregonians at risk.

That’s why ODOE staff work with our partners in Washington, other state agencies, and Morrow and Umatilla county representatives to practice important protective procedures, focusing on:

·         Effectively alerting and mobilizing emergency responders.

·         Providing timely and accurate information to the public and news media.

·         Issuing and implementing appropriate protective action recommendations to protect public health and safety.

·         Sampling, processing, and analyzing potentially contaminated soil, vegetation, air, and water.

At the end of the drill, staff take part in what they call a “hot wash” to evaluate their performances and discuss areas that could be improved upon in the case of an actual incident.

While the exercises happen once a year, ODOE staff work year-round to protect our state from hazardous materials at Hanford. Due to the volume of chemical and radioactive nuclear waste at Hanford, the site is one of the largest environmental challenges in the world. Since 1989, the focus at Hanford has been cleanup, and because Hanford sits just 35 miles north of the Oregon border along the Columbia River, ODOE’s primary role is to ensure cleanup actions are protective of the river.

ODOE staffs the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board, which provides input to the United States Department of Energy and its regulators on the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Site. The 20-member advisory board includes 10 citizen members, six state legislators, and representatives from the Governor's Office, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and two state agencies. ODOE and the Board keep important cleanup issues visible, hold the USDOE and its contractors accountable, ensure good public involvement and outreach, and convey that Oregon has a major stake in the safe and timely cleanup of Hanford.

The Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board hosts public meetings at locations throughout Oregon, though more commonly in communities along the Columbia River closest to Hanford. At the meetings, representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, contractors, Washington Department of Ecology, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Oregon Department of Energy staff brief the Board about a wide variety of issues associated with the Hanford Site. The meetings are open to the public and ODOE encourages public attendance and participation.

Learn more about Hanford and Oregon’s role.

Join us at the next Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board Meeting to learn more about cleanup and how it affects Oregon.

Sign up for email updates to stay informed about future meetings and more.