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Washington state tells feds to hurry up on leaking Hanford tank

Sat., March 22, 2014, midnight

OLYMPIA – Washington wants the federal government to start pumping radioactive sludge out of a leaking tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation by September rather than waiting a couple of years.

In a notice Friday to the U.S. Department of Energy, the state said it disagrees with a timetable released earlier this month for emptying a tank at Hanford that’s leaking into the ground above an aquifer that flows into the Columbia River.

The state issued an administrative order to begin pumping the waste by Sept. 1. It’s the same type of order the state would issue to the owner of any leaking tank, Department of Ecology spokesman Dieter Bohrmann said, although a business owner might get orders to start pumping within 24 hours.

Pumping radioactive waste left over from making nuclear warheads is considerably more complicated than most other waste, however, so the federal government was given a little over five months to put together a plan and start pumping.

The tank in question is one of the newer, double-walled holding structures that were thought to be leak-proof. But tests revealed early last year that the waste levels in this tank were dropping, meaning radioactive materials were likely seeping into surrounding soil.

A federal plan released March 7 had two possible timetables, with the shortest being two years, Bohrmann said.

“There’s no commitment from them to pump this tank in the near future,” he said. “This compels them to do something.”

But like any other person on the receiving end of such an order, the federal government could appeal to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board sometime within the next 30 days. That could result in more delays, as the sides gather experts to make their case to the board.

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