Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Super! Exciting! Practically Harmless!

Like having breakfast on plutonium.

What do you think when you think outdoor recreation?

It could be forests or grasslands. It might be mountains or seashores.

Lakes, streams, long vistas, magnificent peaks. All these come to mind. Another thing that comes to mind is funding.

Someone has to pay for national parks, national forests, even lowly Bureau of Land Management facilities.

Sure, you pay taxes but taxes don't cut it any more. Due to popular demand, taxes have been cut here, there, and everywhere, to the point that there isn't enough money left to do diddly.

Don't talk about raising entry fees. That has been tried, my friend, and people get cranky when told they have to fork over a handful of bills just to get through the gate.

So the U.S. Government is trying something new.

In an all-too-rare fit of bipartisanship there is a move to try SuperFunding. Yep. You heard that right. SuperFunding.

Recreation up to and even over the edge.

For example, there is the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, just sitting there doing pretty much nothing. Why not let people go see?

Hanford is hopping with fascinating radioactive leftovers dating way back to World War II. Leaky storage tanks. Hazardous waste pits. All in all, 53 million gallons (200,630,016 L) of high-level radioactive waste, simply waiting quietly for you to come and visit.

Your entry fee of only $19.95 per day, or $235.00 annually (for a "U-Pass") will allow you to explore on your own, enjoying the kind of hiking and camping others only dream about. And until recently, were shot on sight for attempting.

Check out the historic "B Reactor", the world's first plutonium producer. Or the graphite-encased "N Reactor". (Just like the one at Chernobyl!)

Or if you're up for a more spectator-type experience, witness the slightly less historic but almost comically frantic groundwater remediation efforts. Watch guys with buckets and shovels try to remove radioactive nuclides before they seep into the Columbia River's ripping current and go to visit beautiful Portland, OR, just a few miles downstream.

OK, too far to travel for a Hike-N-Glow vacation? Well, if you live in the U.S. southeast, there is always Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Bring your metal detector and spend a few days searching for leftover traces of enriched uranium, or the odd nut or bolt that jumped off a waste-transport truck. Between sessions you might try some tried and true backcountry camping or hone your skills at family decontamination.

If these programs prove they can pay for themselves, the SuperFunding program is sure to extend from government reservations to even privately-owned chemical waste dumps and acid pits.

Every state has some already, and if not, we can always open up the national parks themselves for a little judicious dumping and filling-in to sweeten the deal and attract more visitors willing to pay their fair share for a tingly vacation experience.


Nuclear weapon sites may become national parks.