Hanford consent decree negotiations extended

Tri-City HeraldJune 11, 2014 

— Washington state and federal officials will continue to discuss changes to the Hanford court-enforced consent decree, rather than taking the matter back to court.

The initial 40-day dispute resolution period expired June 2, which allowed either the state or the Department of Energy to ask a federal judge to intervene.

The state and federal governments have agreed not to seek court involvement until after June 27.

But if the state’s goals cannot be reached through mutual agreement, the state remains prepared to take the matter back to court, said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The state requires a plan that “provides specificity, accountability and enforceability,” he said.

The state and DOE each proposed amendments to the consent decree after DOE said most of the remaining deadlines were at risk of being missed. That included the key deadline of having the vitrification plant fully operating in 2022 to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks.

Both rejected the other’s amendment and the state triggered a 40-day dispute resolution period, a step outlined in the consent decree. During the 40 days, negotiators have met twice in person and once by video conference.

Negotiators will meet at least once more in person for a full day to more fully explore whether an agreement can be reached on a path forward, Ferguson and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Wednesday.

The discussions to date have been productive and DOE is pleased that discussions will continue, DOE said in a statement.

“We all have a vested interest in determining a viable path forward in cleaning up Hanford and ensuring the federal government fulfills its legal obligations,” Inslee said.

The state’s proposed amendment to the consent decree includes a lengthy and detailed list of new requirements and deadlines, including that new waste storage tanks be built and that the vitrification plant start glassifying low-activity radioactive waste by 2019.

DOE is proposing that the first low-activity waste be turned into glass by 2022. It wants to set mostly near-term deadlines that it is confident it can meet. Its proposal commits to negotiating and setting longer-term deadlines on a rolling schedule as it resolves technical issues and designs proposed facilities.

The consent decree resolved a federal lawsuit brought by the state against DOE when DOE could not meet an earlier set of deadlines, including starting to operate the vitrification plant in 2011.

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