Hanford Challenge started life as a spin-off from our work at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a national non-profit dedicated to protecting and advocating on behalf of whistleblowers. Tom Carpenter was the Director of GAP’s Nuclear Oversight Program from 1985 until 2008, when Hanford Challenge opened its doors. GAP encouraged the formation of this independent organization.
Hanford Challenge took shape as a future visioning project at a meeting on the Kitsap Peninsula in March 2007. About 20 interested participants attended, including activists, whistleblowers, environmental leaders, academics, and more. The group formed in October 2007 and officially launched in January 2008.
Hanford Challenge seeks change in the system through collaborative relationships, on the basis that it is better to change people’s minds than it is to force changes in behaviors. Traditional tools of advocacy, such as litigation, media “hit” pieces, Congressional hearings and special reports, have their place, and are a necessary component of successful and effective advocacy. However, too often they result in short-term gains but not long-term reform. They define positions, set up sides, and are not conducive to dialogue.
Hanford Challenge seeks to shape the future at Hanford so that the cleanup there is effective and protective of current and future generations and the environment. We have decided to do this through an intentional approach of inquiry: listening to workers, managers, officials, and other stakeholders, and helping to bring about conversations, as opposed to confrontations, where possible. It is true that we will occasionally engage in litigation when necessary, file reports, and seek Congressional oversight. However, we think that lasting changes come about because of intentional decisions on the part of the community to change. This includes at Hanford itself.
Hanford Challenge has increased its role in the Hanford Concerns Council. This bold and collaborative body seeks to mediate employee concerns in a manner that protects employees and resolves their underlying issues. This approach avoids litigation and guards against reprisal, even as it shows the system a path towards resolution. Hanford Challenge has worked hard to expand its contractor membership to include most of the Site workers. Only Bechtel and Pacific Northwest Laboratories have so far declined to join the Council.
Some of our accomplishments at Hanford are tangible. We have conducted environmental sampling and brought needed attention to some radioactive hotspots in publicly-accessible areas around Hanford. We have worked closely with numerous workers victimized by a system that denies compensation to those made ill by their work with some of the deadliest hazards on the planet. We have produced videos, appeared on radio shows, held and attended numerous public meetings, and met with state and federal agencies, contractor presidents, and workers with inside information about things going wrong.
Many of our accomplishments happen behind the scenes and are long-term in nature. They result in quiet but effective reforms in broken systems, and in helping individuals get justice, health care, and compensation.
Hanford Challenge takes a longer term view of the challenge of Hanford and works in the moment to bring about the changes that are needed. In the long run, we are convinced that a systemic approach is needed. The system — DOE’s structure, its origin as a secretive and unaccountable nuclear bomb-making agency, its vision of cleanup — is broken. An effective plan to clean up Hanford will require major reforms to this system.
Hanford is a long-term problem and a threat to current and future generations. It is the most contaminated facility in the Western Hemisphere. It will require decades and over $100 billion to cleanup. Hanford Challenge is committed to a method and a process to addressing that breath-taking task.