At Hanford, the alphabet soup is a real stew

As the newbie communication manager for Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program, I’ve been swimming upstream in an alphabet torrent.

For years, I’ve been telling folks that one of my few regrets is failing to learn another language. I realize now that’s not entirely true. In my previous life I was senior writer and vice president for an ad agency that specialized in aviation. And though I’m not a pilot, I did become familiar with much of the aviation lingo. And I thought aviation shorthand was challenging.

To poach a metaphor I’ve heard a lot around NWP (that’s Nuclear Waste Program to the uninitiated), aviation is a lawn sprinkler to hazardous waste cleanup’s firehose.

An excerpt from the list of Hanford acronyms and initialisms. From CEPAC (Center for Process Analytical Chemistry) to CERCLA (Comprehensive

Just a small taste of the many initialisms and acronyms that define efforts to clean up Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Into the stew


Out of an alphabet frying pan into the initialism fire.

First, there’s the DOE-EPA-NWP’s TPA. That’s the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and NWP (you know that one already), who long ago entered into the Tri-Party Agreement.

Or how about Rev 9, Rev 8c, Site-wide Permit (officially, the Hanford Dangerous Waste Permit). Confusingly, all the same thing. Well, not exactly. Rev 8c is the one currently in effect. Rev 9 has been in the works for … a long time. Rev 9 will go into effect soon. Very soon.

Then there’s RCRA and CERCLA – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (AKA Superfund). Say Rick-ruh and Ser-cluh if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

The steep slope of Gable Mountain on Hanford nuclear reservation

Gable Mountain in the heart of Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The many programs known mostly by their initials are aimed at protecting this delicate habitat, among many other goals. 

Getting it straight

Let’s see if I can straighten these last two out for you. The TPA (see above – officially the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order) spells out which agency is responsible to regulate specific parts of the ongoing cleanup at Hanford. EPA has ultimate authority over operations governed by the Superfund law, but at Hanford the TPA splits oversight responsibilities more or less evenly between the EPA and our state Ecology Nuclear Waste Program. 
To wrap your head around DFLAW – Direct Feed Low-Activity Waste – you have to understand that there is high-level radioactive waste, the material generated in nuclear reactors. And there’s low-activity waste (LAW), which is radioactive, but the concentrations are low enough that they don’t require the same protective measures. Direct feed promises to speed up the processing of LAW materials stored in Hanford’s extensive system of waste storage tanks. And that’s a good thing all around – the sooner these toxic stews are cleaned up, the better for all concerned.

There’s a lot more, believe me. But I’ll spare you for now. FYI – CFIT, TAWS and FADEC are all aviation initialisms. FADEC = Full authority digital engine control. It controls your engine for maximum efficiency. TAWS = Terrain awareness and warning system. It tells you if you’re getting too close to something, such as, you know, the ground. CFIT = Controlled flight into terrain. Also known as a crash.

Translation: Making it real

Of course, all of this encoded jargon translates to real things with serious intent. It helps to know at least a few of them if you’re interested in digging into the complex issues and processes involved in cleaning up nearly five decades worth of hazardous and radioactive materials generated by the plutonium production process. Or, for straightforward, jargon-free news on Washington Ecology’s activities to regulate the clean-up, you can follow us on Facebook – Ecology’s Hanford Education & Outreach Network (@HanfordEducation) – and Twitter – Ecology Hanford (@ecyhanford).

So the next time there’s potential public interest when DOE, NWP and EPA talk about CERCLA’s impact on TPA or Rev 9 and RCRA, or what it means for DFLAW, we’ll be sure to let you know. We don’t want you throwing any CFITs.