State Demands New Measures to Ensure Timely Cleanup of Hanford - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

State Demands New Measures to Ensure Timely Cleanup of Hanford

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When it comes to Hanford, Washington state government leaders are saying enough is enough. When it comes to Hanford, Washington state government leaders are saying enough is enough.
HANFORD, WA - When it comes to Hanford, Washington state government leaders are saying enough is enough.
 
Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson aren't happy with the most recent Hanford clean-up plan submitted by the federal government.
 
The Department of Energy released a proposal Monday to make some changes to the 2010 Consent Decree. That's an agreement that DOE hasn't followed through on after it also previously violated the Tri-Party Agreement to clean up the Hanford site and the state took them to court.
 
Governor Inslee and Ferguson said DOE's suggested revisions to the Consent Agreement aren't good enough because they lack specific details. So state government leaders have created their own changes, including a step by step schedule to complete the Waste Treatment Plant and regular progress reports.
 
The attorney general said the federal government has until April 15th to either accept or disagree with the state's proposal.
 
"It is now time to take legal action, exercise legal tools in the Consent Decree and protect Washingtonians from this hazardous waste," Ferguson said.
 
In another situation we're following, six more Hanford workers went to the Hanford Site Medical Provider after experiencing sore throats, headaches and nasal irritation, all chemical vapors-related symptoms.
 
All six were then released back to work.

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HANFORD, WA. - Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson held a press conference Monday concerning the cleanup efforts at Hanford. They issued new demands to the U.S. Department of Energy. Below is the entire statement released by the governor's communication office.

Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson today issued new demands to the U.S. Department of Energy to ensure timely Hanford cleanup in the form of a proposed plan to revise the 2010 Consent Decree. The proposal aims to prevent the federal government from delaying cleanup of Hanford's radioactive and hazardous tank waste.

The state's plan seeks to keep Hanford cleanup on track in spite of the federal government's repeated statements that it will not be able to meet important cleanup deadlines. Today's action is the first step under the Consent Decree that could precede a request from the court to establish new requirements.

USDOE also submitted a draft plan to the state today, though an initial review by the state shows the plan does not provide sufficient detail. Inslee and Ferguson expressed frustration that it took the federal government more than two years from when the state was first told that deadlines were at risk to provide a draft plan for a path forward. The official proposal received this morning from the federal government does not provide details on how USDOE will meet the at-risk deadlines and get back on schedule despite repeated requests by the state.

"Although I appreciate Secretary Moniz placing a high priority on Hanford, the state needs a plan that includes a detailed and comprehensive path forward," said Governor Jay Inslee. "Our proposed amendments to the consent decree address this need by providing very specific steps for meeting these deadlines to ensure Hanford cleanup is completed in a timely manner."

The state's plan includes four requirements for the federal government:

  1. Timely Waste Treatment: The Waste Treatment Plant is behind schedule. The state demands a revised step-by-step schedule to complete construction of the Waste Treatment Plant and begin treating waste as soon as possible. The state's plan requires the completion of all waste treatment by the same ultimate deadline—no later than 2047.

  2. Remove Waste from Leaky Tanks: The state demands new specific requirements to get the waste out of the leaky single-shell tanks as soon as possible. The state's plan creates rigid pacing deadlines to ensure waste removal from the single-shell tanks is completed no later than 2040. It further requires new double-shell tanks to be built to accommodate waste until the Waste Treatment Plant is completed.

  3. Address Environmental Risks: The state demands new environmental safety requirements for groundwater treatment and to minimize leaking as the waste is removed and treated.
  1. Additional Accountability: The state has been frustrated by the lack of timely information from the federal government. The state demands new terms to the court-ordered Consent Decree, including regular progress reports filed with the state and the court.

"Today, the state is demanding the federal government meet its legal commitments at Hanford," said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "We are proposing new requirements to increase accountability, protect the environment, and reduce the possibility of further delays."

Background:

The state Department of Ecology, USDOE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency signed the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 to establish a plan to clean up radioactive and hazardous waste at Hanford.

In 2008, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court when it was clear the U.S. Department of Energy would be unable to meet key deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement.

The state and federal government settled the lawsuit in 2010 and agreed upon a series of new deadlines for completing the retrieval and treatment of 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive and hazardous waste from Hanford's 177 underground tanks.

The nearer-term deadlines—including deadlines for constructing and beginning operation of Hanford's Waste Treatment Plant—were included in a Consent Decree.

Longer-term deadlines, including new final deadlines for retrieving waste from all single-shell tanks no later than 2040 and completing treatment of all tank waste no later than 2047, were established in the Tri-Party Agreement.

The federal government has since informed the state that nearly all of the Consent Decree deadlines are in jeopardy, including the startup of the entire Waste Treatment Plant, which was set to begin operations in 2019.

While the state's proposed plan acknowledges delays in completion of the Waste Treatment Plant, the state does not propose to push back the final deadlines for retrieving all single-shell tanks and treating all tank waste.  In fact, the state's plan demands those ultimate deadlines are met and puts in place new requirements designed to ensure on-time completion.

For example, the state's proposed plan would require one of the three major facilities at the Waste Treatment Plant to begin transforming tank waste into glass by 2019. The state's plan makes these final deadlines part of the Consent Decree, making them part of a court order.

Under the legally binding provisions in the Consent Decree, USDOE must notify the state by April 15, 2014, whether it accepts the state's proposed plan. If it is not accepted, the federal government must explain the reasons for disagreeing. If the state does not hear from the USDOE by April 15, the state may ask the court to impose the new requirements, even over USDOE's objection.

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Governor Inslee released this statement in response to the Department of Energy's cleanup proposal. Read below.

RICHLAND, Wash. – For more than 40 years, facilities at the Hanford site in the State of Washington produced plutonium critical to the nation's defense during World War II and throughout the Cold War. This effort resulted in the production of 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical wastes, which are currently stored in 177 underground tanks. The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP) is a massive and complex first-of-a-kind plant that will be the cornerstone to completing the cleanup of this tank waste at Hanford.

Two agreements govern the cleanup of the Hanford site, the 2010 Consent Decree and the 1989 Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order — also known as the Tri-Party Agreement. The Consent Decree has a number of milestones associated with the completion of the WTP. However, since the Consent Decree was entered, extensive analysis by DOE and independent experts has shown that the WTP as currently designed cannot be assured for 40 years of safe operation. A new approach is needed. 

Today, the Department presented the State of Washington with a proposal  to amend the Consent Decree. The Department is proposing a phased approach to treating and immobilizing tank waste by moving forward on the mostly liquid portion of the tank waste, while continuing work to resolve technical issues. The proposal provides a set of near-term, fixed milestones for certain activities and sets forth a transparent process with timeframes for establishing additional milestones once the technical issues are resolved. This plan will require that some additional facilities will be needed, one for pretreating the low level waste and another for mixing, sampling and feeding the high level waste. 

We have made tremendous progress in the cleanup of the Hanford site over the past 25 years, but we recognize we still have a long way to go. While we share the same sense of urgency as the States of Washington and Oregon, and members of the public to safely complete this mission, we also recognize that thoughtful decision-making and actions in the near-term will build the foundation for a stronger, more sustainable, and durable tank waste cleanup mission at Hanford.

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