April 1, 2014 in Region

Inslee threatens legal action on Hanford

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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OLYMPIA – Northwest residents need more than vague plans and missed deadlines for the cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday.

If the federal government doesn’t come up with a more specific plan or agree to one proposed by the state over the next two months, Washington will go back to court to try to force the U.S. Department of Energy to act.

“The federal government owes it to the people of the Northwest … to protect the health of our residents and the Columbia River,” Inslee said in proposing an alternative to a federal plan he said “lacks sufficient detail.”

The state and federal government have been locked in legal battles since the 1980s over Hanford, where radioactive waste is stored from decades of nuclear weapons production. In 1989, they entered into an agreement that called for the waste to be cleaned up on a 30-year timetable.

But as Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday, those deadlines slipped and were missed, and the state sued in 2008. That suit was settled in 2010 with a consent decree that again set specific deadlines for full cleanup by 2047 and all the waste out of the older single-wall tanks, some of which are leaking, by 2040.

Two years ago, the Energy Department told the state it might not meet some of the deadlines in the 2010 decree. On Monday, the department released a draft plan that state officials say doesn’t explain how it will meet deadlines or get back on track.

“It is now time to take legal action,” said Ferguson, who attended a news conference with Inslee.

The first step in that action was the state’s counterproposal, released within hours of the federal plan, that would add new terms to that 2010 decree. It includes building more barriers around some of the leaking tank areas starting in 2017, constructing at least eight new double-walled tanks by 2024 into which waste from the leaking single-walled tanks can be pumped, and a step-by-step plan for finishing a treatment plant where radioactive waste can be turned into glass logs.

The Energy Department would also have to submit more frequent reports to the state and the court on how it is meeting its deadlines.

“The state has shown a good amount of patience,” Inslee said. “Now the clock is up.”

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