Hanford Communities says 8 new Hanford tanks not prudent

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 22, 2014 

A coalition of Tri-City-area governments has called on Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee to drop the state's demand that eight more waste storage tanks be built at Hanford.

The project would unnecessarily divert money in a limited cleanup budget from a plan to start treating Hanford's radioactive and hazardous chemical waste as soon as possible, Hanford Communities said in a letter sent this week to the governor and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Hanford Communities includes the cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco, Benton and Franklin Counties and the Port of Benton.

"The state's prescriptive and rigid stance on this issue sets a bad precedent in the collaborative relationship between the state and the federal government," the letter said.

The state's stance is that the Obama administration is obligated to request money for all Hanford cleanup that needs to be done, said Jane Hedges, the director of the state Department of Ecology's Nuclear Waste Program. If Congress cannot provide enough money, the state will take that into consideration.

But the assumption should not be made that enough money for all important cleanup work cannot be obtained, she said.

DOE has estimated the cost of building eight new storage tanks to nuclear standards at $800 million. Union officials have called that estimate too high.

Last week the state of Washington and the Department of Energy each rejected the other's proposal to amend a court-enforced consent decree.

The state's proposal outlined a lengthy and detailed list of new deadlines and requirements, including a requirement that DOE build additional double-shell capacity, including new tanks to hold four million gallons of waste in 2022 and tanks to hold four million gallons more by 2024.

Ferguson said he could take further action this week after DOE rejected the state's proposal.

Significant new storage capacity will be included as part of facilities DOE is proposing building to resolve technical issues at the vitrification plant, Hanford Communities pointed out.

DOE is proposing building an underground plant to prepare low activity radioactive waste for treatment at the vitrification plant's Low Activity Waste Facility as technical issues are being resolved at vit plant facilities that handle high-level radioactive waste.

A second new facility is proposed to blend, sample and mix waste before it is sent to parts of the vit plant with technical issues.

However, DOE does not have specific information about those facilities and the form and size of their tanks, Hedges said. But the state is willing to look at any storage options, she said.

Hanford Communities said in the letter that it understood the state's frustration at the lack of progress in developing a permanent solution for Hanford tank waste. Part of the issue is Congressional funding levels, it said.

"The state needs to realize that we are in a tight budget situation with competing needs within DOE and across the country," the letter said.

Funding for Hanford already has decreased to the point of concern, the letter said.

If money for new tanks were to be taken from the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, high risk cleanup projects would be delayed, the letter said.

The Richland Operations Office is responsible for all Hanford cleanup except waste in underground tanks.

Projects that could be at risk include the 618-10 and 618-11 Burial Ground, the Plutonium Finishing Plant and removal of cesium and strontium capsules from underwater storage, the letter said.

Part of the push to build more storage tanks comes from a leak discovered within the walls of double-shell Tank AY-102. The state has ordered work to start by Sept. 1 to pump waste from the tank, but DOE has filed an appeal with a state board.

In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has raised concerns about the condition of Hanford's 27 other double-shell tanks after reading evaluations of their construction.

But Hanford Communities said that integrity reports show the 27 other double-shell tanks are in relatively stable condition and there is strong confidence they would be able to contain leaks in their inner shells.

"In this instance, AY-102 did exactly as it was designed to do, contain leaks from its first shell," the letter said.

It is important that the state look at Hanford cleanup as a whole, not just at the tank work that falls under the consent decree, Hanford Communities said.

Like the Tri-City Development Council, Hanford Communities also believes that returning to court over the consent decree would harm Hanford cleanup, the letter said.

TRIDEC sent a letter to the governor and attorney general early last week, with broader concerns about the state's proposal than the eight new double-shell tanks.

After recent discussions with U.S. senators and representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, TRIDEC was convinced that the Hanford budget would not be increased to pay for new consent decree requirements.

Without that funding, the state's proposal could take away money from projects that pose a more immediate risk to the public and environment, TRIDEC said.

The state's intent is not to take money away from work that TRIDEC listed in its letter as important to complete, Hedges said. Those projects also are important to the state, she said.

The state could call this week for the next step under the consent decree, 40 days of negotiations. If negotiations are unsuccessful, the state could return to court and ask that DOE be required to follow the state's proposal.

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

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