March 5: Alum discusses Hanford cleanup for common reading

By Beverly Makhani, Office of Undergraduate Education

PetersenPULLMAN, Wash. – Drawing on a half century of experience with nuclear power, alumnus and Tri-Cities economic development executive Gary Petersen will present “Hanford’s Waste History, Challenges and Future” at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 5, in CUE 203 on the Washington State University campus.

The lecture is hosted by the common reading program, which arranges student activities and faculty and expert lectures on topics related to the common reading book. This year’s book is “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Humes.

Garbology-100“One of our goals has been that we extend the “Garbology” topic to consider the most serious waste issue our state faces – that of Hanford’s nuclear waste,” said Karen Weathermon, common reading co-director.

The Columbia River flows through the 586-square-mile Hanford site located three hours west of Pullman. Begun in 1943, the facility produced electricity and the plutonium used in the Manhattan Project during World War II and the Cold War.

Decades later, Hanford is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, containing 60 percent of all U.S. high-level radioactive waste. It is also the site of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup with particular focus on the fate and safety of the storage tanks buried at the site.

Petersen graduated from WSU in 1965 in communications and went to work with Battelle Corp. and the Hanford site. He worked with Washington Public Power Supply System (now Energy Northwest) on the Columbia generating station before returning to Battelle as director of communication and administration at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

In his last six years with Battelle he worked on the U.S. Department of State’s safety program for Soviet nuclear reactors; he had spent time at Chernobyl following its 1986 accident and at similar Russian sites.

He is vice president of federal programs for TRIDEC, the Tri-City Development Council. He works with PNNL, the U.S. Department of Energy, Hanford contractors and the U.S. Congress to firm up federal funding for Hanford cleanup.

As a private citizen, Petersen filed a successful lawsuit with two others against the federal government over work stoppage at Yucca Mountain. They believe that the site, located about 100 miles from Las Vegas, is a safe, deep geologic repository for nuclear waste.

The common reading program is in its eighth year at WSU Pullman. It provides common topics that prompt dialogue and interaction between WSU’s top professors and their students in a wide array of disciplines. Learn more at


Karen Weathermon, WSU common reading program, 509-335-5488,