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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington state lawmakers want review of Hanford cleanup

FILE – In this July 9, 2014, file photo, a sign warns of radioactivity near a wind direction flag indicator at the “C” tank farm on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

The federal government’s watchdog agency should review the cleanup of contaminated waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the wake of a recent tunnel collapse, a bipartisan group from Congress said.

Democrats and Republicans from Washington were joined by several other members of Congress in a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to examine a series of questions around the cleanup at the reservation with a special focus on what still must be completed.

Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, along with Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse want the GAO to look at how the U.S. Department of Energy monitors the structural soundness of tunnels at the PUREX facility, which once made the material for the nation’s nuclear warheads. They were joined in the letter by Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

The lawmakers want to know if the department is properly checking the soundness of the two tunnels at PUREX where contaminated equipment is stored, and whether those structures are safe and the contractors are held accountable.

“What actions has DOE taken, or is planning to take … to ensure structural stability and better evaluate the potential for safety risks to workers, the public, and environment?” they ask in a letter to the comptroller general of the GAO, Gene Dodaro. They also want to know the timeline to complete the cleanup and how the department decides the priority for cleaning up different sites.

The request was prompted by a collapse earlier this month of part of a tunnel next to the PUREX facility. The hole was filled with dirt and the department is stabilizing the tunnel to prevent future collapses. The tunnel had rail cars with radioactive materials and contaminated equipment, although no measurable radioactive materials were released into the environment.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal called for less spending on Hanford cleanup.