State initiates dispute resolution over Hanford consent decree

Tri-City HeraldApril 23, 2014 

— The state has triggered dispute resolution for Hanford's court-enforced consent decree after the Department of Energy rejected its proposal Friday for new deadlines and requirements.

State attorneys sent a brief letter Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate 40 days of good faith negotiation, as required under the 2010 consent decree.

If the state and federal governments cannot reach agreement, the state may then return to federal court to request an order directing DOE to meet the requirements of the state's plan.

"We will continue to use the legal tools at our disposal to force the federal government to accept a plan that increases accountability, protects the environment and public, and reduces further delays," said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

DOE made a proposal that the state also rejected Friday, and DOE said in a statement Wednesday that it remains committed to working with the state toward a mutually acceptable amendment to the consent decree.

DOE told the state in 2013 it is at risk of missing most of the remaining deadlines in the consent decree.

"We have been disappointed with the federal government's lack of commitment to its responsibility to clean up Hanford," Ferguson said.

There has been progress by DOE in proposing creative ways to move forward with some of the environmental cleanup at Hanford, said Gov. Jay Inslee. But "we need to see substantial improvement in order to ensure that our agreed-upon deadlines for waste removal and treatment are met," he said.

The state proposed a lengthy and detailed list of deadlines and requirements to ensure that all 56 million gallons of Hanford radioactive waste now held in underground tanks is treated for disposal no later than 2047, as required under the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement. Much, if not all, of the waste, would be treated at the Hanford vitrification plant under construction.

The state agreed with DOE's proposal to start treating waste as soon as possible by building a new facility to prepare waste to be fed directly to the vit plant's Low Activity Waste Facility, bypassing the Pretreatment Facility, where technical issues have halted construction.

The state also likes DOE's proposal to build a facility to mix, blend, sample and do some pretreatment of high-level radioactive waste before it is sent to the vitrification plant, which could resolve some of the plant's technical issues.

However, the state has objected to DOE's proposal to set new deadlines for some tank waste retrieval and low-activity waste treatment, but to delay setting other deadlines until technical issues are resolved and it has more certainty in how work will be done.

DOE's proposal "lacks specificity, accountability and enforceability," the state said.

DOE, in turn, criticized the state's proposal, saying it did not adequately account for the realities of the resolution of technical issues at the vit plant, project management requirements and budget constraints. Some of those proposed requirements are beyond the scope of the original consent decree, including requirements for eight new double-shell tanks, DOE said.

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

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