Board wants better details in Hanford lifecycle report

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 8, 2014 

The Hanford lifecycle cost and schedule report released earlier this year is missing information that could cause cleanup to cost more and take longer than the report indicates, according to the Hanford Advisory Board.

The latest annual report, which is a requirement of the Tri-Party Agreement, puts the cost of completing cleanup of the nuclear reservation, plus some post-cleanup oversight through 2090, at $113.6 billion.

But it includes some unrealistic assumptions and does not take into account escalating costs caused by budgets that are lower than those used in the report, the board agreed at a meeting last week.

It sent a letter of advice to the Department of Energy, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency on the 2014 Hanford Lifecycle Scope, Schedule and Cost Report.

The latest lifecycle report calls for annual budgets in some years as much as $2 billion larger than recent annual budgets, the letter said. Projected budgets in the report are based on having enough money to meet legal deadlines for cleanup.

"If the budget figures remain at the current level, the completion dates could be extended out an additional 20 to 30 years," the letter said.

The board is recommending that DOE include a variety of funding scenarios in the next report to show the negative impacts of insufficient budgets on the longterm schedule and cost of cleanup, the letter said.

The board also took issue with the assumption in the report that Hanford's 28 double-shell tanks holding radioactive waste will remain fully operational for the 40 years projected for the vitrification plant to treat all 56 million gallons of waste held in single- and double-shell tanks.

One of the 28 tanks already has a leak from its inner shell. The advisory board has recommended that DOE plan for additional storage capacity, and Washington state wants eight more double-shell tanks built.

The report also should reflect plans for storing vitrified high-level radioactive waste at Hanford, given that a national deep geologic repository for the waste may not be available for decades.

The board recommended that DOE and its regulators consider whether issuing the report annually when DOE's master plan for Hanford cleanup has not changed is needed.

Significant effort is put into revising the report annually, said board member Jerry Peltier during the board discussion. But the report can change little year to year if DOE has not changed its master plan for cleanup work.

The plan does not yet reflect DOE proposals to build two new facilities to prepare waste for treatment at the vitrification plant. It also does not reflect changes that will be made after the 2010 consent decree is amended, either through negotiations between DOE and the state or by court intervention.

Once new legal deadlines are set they can be incorporated into DOE's master plan and then reflected in the lifecycle report.

-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

SIDEBAR: Board seeks open information exchange

The Hanford Advisory Board wants an open exchange of information between government agencies and the public before negotiations conclude on Hanford’s court-enforced consent decree.

The consent decree discussions beween the Department of Energy and the state of Washington include when the vitrification plant must start treating radioactive waste, the schedule for emptying some leak-prone underground waste tanks, and whether DOE must build eight new storage tanks for radioactive waste.

“The board continues to be very frustrated by constraints placed on DOE and Ecology that have limited open and transparent information sharing with the public,” the board said last week in a letter of advice to DOE and the state Department of Ecology.

Major public policy changes could result from changes to the consent decree, and those decisions should not be made behind closed doors, said board member Gerald Pollet.

“They are working for us,” said board member Susan Leckband. “I hope they will share a little more information with the people they are working for.”

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