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Feds reject state plan for Hanford cleanup

Refusal could put matter back in court

OLYMPIA — Washington rejected the U.S. Energy Department’s latest plan for the cleanup of leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The federal government, in turn, rejected the state’s counteroffer, setting up the prospect that they could be headed back to court with their long-running dispute over one of the nation’s biggest nuclear cleanups.

In a letter Friday to the Justice Department, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the proposal DOE made last month to amend the 2010 plan for cleaning up the waste is too vague. After falling behind the 2010 timetable to clean up the waste from Hanford’s role in the nation’s nuclear weapons production, the DOE came up with a revision the state deemed inadequate almost as soon as it was released.

“Energy’s proposal lacks sufficient specificity, accountability and enforceability,” Inslee said.

The state countered with its own plan, asking for a detailed work schedule for the cleanup of nuclear waste out of the leaky tanks as soon as possible, new safety requirements for ground water treatment and regular progress reports filed with the state and the courts.

On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said the state plan doesn’t “account for the realities” of such things as technical problems and costs. It can’t give a fixed schedule for some things because developing the facility to handle the waste relies on technology so uncertain the timing can’t be guaranteed.

“The state’s proposal raises a number of significant technical, safety, budgetary and legal issues that render it unworkable,” federal attorneys wrote. The state’s plan could double the cost to the federal government most years, it added.

The state and federal Energy Departments have been in and out of court over Hanford cleanup for years. The reservation contains decades of waste from making plutonium and other materials for nuclear weapons. It is stored in underground tanks, and some of those tanks are leaking. In 2010, they signed a consent decree that laid out a plan to clean up the waste, but by 2011, the department was warning the state it was likely to fall behind schedule.

With each side rejecting the other’s plan, Inslee’s office said the state could ask for “dispute resolution,” which involves a 40-day period of negotiations. If those talks don’t result in an agreement, the state could go to federal court and ask a judge to order the department to use the state’s plan.

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