Public asked to weigh in on best plan for Hanford tunnel cleanup - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Public asked to weigh in on best plan for Hanford tunnel cleanup

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RICHLAND, WA - Beginning today, members of the public can add their voices to the decision on the best way to deal with a deteriorating Hanford tunnel filled with highly radioactive waste.

A 45-day public comment period sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology begins today and ends Sept. 27. The comment period relates to a permit change that would allow the U.S. Department of Energy to fill PUREX Tunnel 2 with grout — a form of concrete.

Ecology denied Energy’s request to begin the grouting before the public comment period ends, but the state agency did issue an order today allowing Energy to begin setting up the equipment it would need for the grouting process.

“We’re striking a balance between the public’s right to comment on this important cleanup decision and the need to secure the waste in the tunnel,” said Alex Smith, manager of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program, the state regulator overseeing cleanup at the Hanford site.

Energy says grout is the best way to guard against a potential collapse of the tunnel. Grouting opponents are concerned that the grout would become a permanent solution and argue that, instead, the waste should be removed.

“Our highest priority always is safety of Hanford workers and the public, and protection of the environment,” Smith said. “But we also strongly support the public comment process. Once grout starts flowing, the public would no longer have any meaningful chance to affect the decision.”

The tunnel is a legacy of the plutonium processing process carried out for decades at the PUREX – Plutonium-Uranium Extraction – facility. As the highly radioactive equipment failed or became obsolete, it was loaded onto rail cars and stored in this tunnel and its companion, Tunnel 1.

The public comment period will include two public hearings:

Aug. 27 – 5:30 p.m., Richland Public Library, Richland
Sept. 5 – 6:30 p.m., University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture, Seattle

Visit Ecology’s website for more details about this and other Hanford public comment periods.

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