RICHLAND – The U.S. Department of Energy should not be given additional time to empty the next group of Hanford Nuclear Reservation waste storage tanks, according to state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Earlier this month, the Energy Department proposed extending deadlines for retrieving radioactive waste from nine leak-prone tanks for one year, giving it until fall 2023 to complete the work.
The agency said that was because a recent requirement that required air respirators for most tank farm workers as protection against chemical vapors reduced efficiency by 30 to 70 percent.
But Ferguson said Monday the Energy Department must meet agreed-upon timelines for Hanford cleanup, the Tri-City Herald reported.
Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and is now is engaged in cleaning up the nation’s largest collection of nuclear waste.
In federal court documents, the state called DOE’s delay request another example of its lack of contingency planning.
“I will hold the Department of Energy accountable to its commitments to protect worker safety and meet agreed-upon timelines for the Hanford cleanup,” Ferguson said in a news statement.
“Energy should not use its responsibility to protect workers, a duty it has always had, as a reason to let critical deadlines to clean up Hanford slip further into the distant future,” Ferguson said.
The Energy Department and the state have filed competing proposals to amend a 2010 court agreement after DOE said most of the remaining deadlines were at serious risk of being missed.
The consent decree covers work to retrieve waste from some of Hanford’s 149 single-walled tanks and to finish a giant treatment plant by 2022.
Issues with worker exposure to chemical vapors have been known for decades, said Jeff Lyons of the Washington state Department of Ecology, in a court document.
The DOE has not discussed alternatives to the respirators, or if additional workers could offset the lost efficiency, Lyons said. The agency has not indicated why it could not catch up the schedule over the next seven years, Lyons said.
The state also objects to DOE waiting until little more than a month before a July 23 federal court hearing on proposed consent decree changes to propose a later deadline.
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