Hanford Advisory Board asks DOE to review study carefully

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 4, 2013 

The Hanford Advisory Board has asked the Department of Energy not to make a quick decision on a new environmental study covering a wide range of Hanford cleanup decisions.

The earliest DOE could issue a decision on the Hanford Final Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement is Jan. 14. In about 10,000 pages, the study, released a month ago, discusses and lists DOE preferences for Hanford environmental cleanup projects that could be adopted as DOE policy when a final decision is issued.

The advisory board is asking DOE to wait until at least March 14 to make any decision.

That much time is needed for the advisory board and the public to adequately review and discuss issues and concerns raised in the study, the board said in a letter to DOE officials. The study, which was released Dec. 5, cost $85 million.

The advisory board is concerned that the study does not identify a preferred way to treat all 56 million gallons of radioactive waste now held in underground tanks. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The $12.2 billion vitrification plant as now designed will not be large enough to treat all the waste for disposal in a reasonable amount of time.

The environmental study considers grouting some of the waste, using steam reforming to treat some waste, expanding the vitrification plant to glassify all the waste or using bulk vitrification to glassify some waste in large blocks the size of land-sea shipping containers.

However, the study does not pick a preferred alternative.

In June, the advisory board told DOE it should glassify all the tank waste for disposal and should discontinue efforts to use bulk vitrification, cast stone or steam reforming as alternative treatment methods.

The state of Washington also has said that the study analysis clearly supports expanding the vitrification plant by adding a second Low Activity Waste Facility as the only environmentally protective option for supplemental treatment.

In December, Hanford Challenge and Columbia Riverkeeper criticized DOE for not picking a preferred way to treat all the waste.

The study did pick preferred alternatives on other cleanup projects. They include entombing the Fast Flux Test Facility, emptying at least 99 percent of waste from underground tanks, leaving the largely emptied tanks in the ground rather than digging them up and continuing to ban most radioactive waste from being brought to Hanford until the vitrification plant is fully operational.

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