State, DOE release new legal proposals for Hanford cleanup

Tri-City HeraldMarch 31, 2014 

— The state of Washington and the Department of Energy each released very different plans Monday to amend the court-enforced consent decree setting deadlines for retrieving radioactive waste from Hanford tanks and treating the waste for disposal.

Gov. Jay Inslee criticized DOE’s plan as containing little specific information.

But Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he was pleased that the state and federal government agreed that DOE should move forward with treating waste at the vitrification plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility while technical issues are resolved elsewhere.

The state’s plan to revise the consent decree would delay some near-term deadlines but require all treatment of radioactive waste to be completed as required under the Tri-Party Agreement by 2047.

The state plan also would require DOE to build four new double-shell tanks by 2022 and then four more by 2024 to safely hold 8 million gallons of waste now in leak-prone single-shell tanks.

The proposal would require the Low Activity Waste Facility to come on line sooner than the current schedule for the full plant.

But it would allow a four-year delay in operations at the High Level Waste Facility and a six-year delay for the Pretreatment Facility, both of which have technical issues that could affect the safe and efficient treatment of waste.

DOE indicated in its proposal that it may resolve technical issues at the Pretreatment Facility by moving to a simpler design with smaller mixing tanks within the building that could improve the ability to keep waste mixed.

DOE is proposing that the Low Activity Waste Facility finish “hot” commissioning using radioactive waste in 2022. Under the current consent decree, DOE is required to have the vitrification plant at full operations then.

DOE also would extend the deadline by one year to have all 16 tanks in the C Tank Farm emptied by September 2015.

DOE has notified the state that all remaining deadlines for the vitrification plant are at risk. t also has said it may not have the last two C Farm tanks emptied by September of this year.

DOE already has missed one consent decree deadline and will miss more in September, according to the state.

“It is now time to take legal action,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The federal government has until April 15 to accept the state’s proposal, according to Ferguson.

If it does not, the state and federal government will enter dispute resolution for 40 days.

The state then could ask the court to intervene. The consent decree was the result of a 2008 lawsuit filed by the state.

Check back for updates.

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