The yellow spot indicates the location of the Perma-Fix Northwest facility. The black sections are zoned commercial and are excluded from the Targeted Urban Area.

A Horn Rapids resident warned of possible dangers from locating a green hydrogen fertilizer plant near the neighborhood and close to the Perma-Fix Northwest radioactive waste processing facility in a recent letter to the Richland City Council.

Perma-Fix incinerates, compacts, and transports radiochemical and mixed waste (waste that is both hazardous and radioactive) each year from the Hanford Nuclear Site.

“The risk of an explosion of hydrogen or ammonia on the nearby Perma-Fix radioactive inventory should be considered,” the anonymous Horn Rapids resident wrote.

At an Oct. 25 workshop meeting that only Councilmembers Theresa Richardson, Jhoanna Jones and Sandra Kent attended, Tri-Cities Development Council President Karl Dye urged the city to adopt tax breaks to compete with Oregon to attract the Atlas Agro fertilizer plant to the city. Dye said that Oregon would offer property tax breaks worth about $90 million over 10 years to the Norwegian company.

Only Kent raised environmental issues. Jones and Richardson wanted to aggressively pursue the business.

At their Dec. 20 meeting, the Richland council announced that a hearing would be held at their Jan. 17 meeting regarding the creation of a Targeted Urban Area (TUA) “to  offer tax relief as a means to attract new industry and jobs.” 

Property tax breaks would be offered on a case by case basis in the TUA to new or expanding businesses that meet the criteria – minimum 10,000 square foot buildings, minimum improvement value of $800,000, and the creation of at least 25, $23 an hour jobs.

“Green hydrogen/fertilizer companies generally make hydrogen by electrolysis using renewable electricity, followed by ammonia production as the fertilizer part,” the Horn Rapids resident wrote the council in a letter written Dec. 26 to be included in the Jan. 17 hearing record.

“Hydrogen and Ammonia are toxic flammable/explosive gases,” the resident wrote.

The writer was also concerned about safety at the Perma-Fix plant, pointing out the non-profit environmental group, Hanford Challenge’s report, “Risky Business at Perma-Fix Northwest.”

The executive summary of that report states:

“Richland residents are at risk from the radioactive and hazardous materials transported over public roads between Hanford and Perma-Fix Northwest. According to the State of Washington and federal regulators, Perma-Fix Northwest in Richland exceeded onsite soil contamination limits, improperly stored radioactive and other hazardous wastes, handled wastes resulting in leakage of plutonium and significant workplace contamination, failed to notify regulators of known violations, and exposed several employees to radiation. Perma-Fix Northwest was also fined a total of $551,891 from 2008 to 2019 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology for hazardous waste violations.”

The organization supports moving the Perma-Fix facility further away from populated areas, a position the Horn Rapids writer took as well.

Hanford Challenge Executive Director Nikolas Peterson did not respond to phone calls asking for a comment.

The neighbor noted that the industrial land use provisions of the Horn Rapids Master Plan are intended to “’prevent friction between uses within the district and to also to protect nearby residential districts’(such as mine).”

“Richland City Council should not encourage manufacturing establishments or expansions that create an explosion of toxic cloud hazards,” the Horn Rapids resident wrote.

The Observer reached out to each member of the council and asked if they thought they were doing enough to protect the growing Horn Rapids neighborhood from hazardous processes in the nearby manufacturing area.

The Observer asked councilmembers if they still supported offering tax breaks to the fertilizer business after learning of the concerns and also asked who in the city was responsible for oversight of Perma-Fix and for the potential fertilizer plant.

Only Councilmember Ryan Lukson responded. In an email, he wrote, “At this time I am comfortable with the proposed action, but I do have more questions. Jon, or his designer [sic], may be able to answer some of your technical questions.”

None of the councilmembers live near Horn Rapids.

Despite problems, according to the Horn Rapids writer, Perma-Fix has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expand its operation in Richland, where “…the EIS [Environment Impact Statement] issued by the City of Richland in 1998 is out of date and cannot underpin an expansion,”

In addition to asking the city not to allow the Atlas Agro plant to be built near Horn Rapids, the writer added, “I would also appreciate if you will ensure that no tax breaks are awarded to Perma-Fix Northwest, as this facility represents a considerable liability to the City.”