Inslee: Hanford draft plan from Moniz lacks details

Tri-City HeraldMarch 17, 2014 

— Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz failed to bring a detailed plan for meeting obligations to clean up radioactive waste at Hanford to a visit with the Washington governor Monday, according to the state.

A draft cleanup plan shared by Moniz lacked the comprehensiveness and level of detail the state has requested for months, said Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee.

“While there are aspects of the plan that have merit, we need to have assurance that the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal will lead to a plan that will be acceptable to the state,” the governor said in a statement released after the morning meeting.

His next step will be to consult with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the state Department of Ecology, he said.

Last month, Inslee and Ferguson sent a letter to Moniz saying they were being kept in the dark about plans for Hanford. They requested a plan that would “contain the specificity, detail and comprehensiveness which has thus far not been provided” on how DOE proposes to amend a 2010 court-enforced consent decree.

DOE has told the state it is at risk of not meeting the remaining consent-decree deadlines for the Hanford vitrification plant being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of waste held in underground tanks. It also may not get two of the six leak-prone tanks that still hold waste in a group called the C Tank Farm emptied on schedule, it has warned the state.

Moniz offered to come to Olympia this month for a face-to-face discussion of a proposal to amend the consent decree before formally delivering the proposal to the state.

“We made it clear last month we were expecting a comprehensive plan for a path forward, and I was disappointed with the scope of the federal government’s approach,” Ferguson said Monday. He described the conversation with Moniz’s team as a candid discussion of the state’s expectations.

DOE released a statement Monday saying that “given the change in approach required by the technical issues, the department has provided its plans as available, sought the state’s feedback and looks forward to taking that into account and providing additional information in the near-term.”

DOE had released what it called a “framework” for discussion in September. That document discussed possibilities for addressing technical problems at the vitrification plant under construction and speeding up work to get tank waste treated for disposal.

Options included sending some tank waste to a national repository in New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, without sending it to the vitrification plant to be glassified. It also proposed sending some liquid waste directly to the vit plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility and sending some additional waste directly to the plant’s High Level Waste Facility. The waste would bypass the plant’s Pretreatment Facility, where construction has stopped until technical issues that could affect its safe and efficient operation are resolved.

Sending the waste directly to those treatment facilities would require some pretreatment to be done before it reaches the vit plant, causing two new facilities to be built outside the plant.

However, few details, including the cost and schedule for proposals in the framework document, have been released.

Adding new urgency to the issue are discoveries that at least one single-shell tank is leaking waste into the ground and one double-shell tank has a leak between its shells. DOE is transferring waste from 149 single-shell tanks into 28 newer double-shell tanks.

Inslee and Ferguson said they appreciated Moniz visiting Olympia to discuss DOE’s draft cleanup plan, even though it did not meet expectations.

The consent decree was the result of a lawsuit filed by Washington. If the state decides to pursue further legal action, the state and federal government would first go to dispute resolution and then the court could weigh in to enforce the consent decree.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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