State, DOE agree to extend Hanford consent decree talks

Tri-City HeraldJuly 16, 2014 

Hanford Vit plant .jpg

Rebar and concrete walls at the top of the High-Level Waste Facility at the Hanford vitrification plant.

COURTESY BECHTEL NATIONAL

Washington state and the federal government have agreed to extend dispute resolution over the Hanford court-enforced consent decree until Sept. 5.

Neither party will seek court involvement in the consent decree until then, according to a Wednesday announcement by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The decree sets deadlines for the emptying of certain leak-prone waste tanks and the building and start up of the $12.3 billion vitrification plant to treat the waste.

In April, the state triggered dispute resolution, as allowed in the 2010 consent decree, after the state and federal government could not agree to proposed amendments to the decree.

DOE has said it is at risk of missing most of the remaining deadlines in the consent decree.

The original 40-day period for dispute resolution, as outlined in the decree, expired in June and this is the second time the dispute resolution period has been extended.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Ferguson agreed to an additional extension to allow the parties to discuss details on a possible path forward that meets both parties’ interests, according to a statement from the state.

“It’s absolutely essential we forge a viable plan that ensures the federal government fulfills its legal obligations to clean up Hanford,” Inslee said. “Delay in completing this cleanup is not in Washington’s interest, and I continue to hope these extended discussions will be helpful.”

State and federal officials have met three times in person since April and have another meeting scheduled next week.

The state of Washington wants a plan that is specific, enforceable and can hold the federal government accountable, Ferguson said. If those goals cannot be met through negotiations, the state remains prepared to ask the federal court to step in, he said.

The state has proposed a detailed and lengthy list of deadlines for the vitrification plant construction and startup and other requirements, including the construction of new tanks to securely hold 8 million gallons of radioactive waste.

But DOE has proposed setting some near-term deadlines now and a schedule to set more deadlines as technical issues are resolved to make sure that deadlines are realistic and achievable.

“The Department of Energy is pleased that the state of Washington has agreed to continue discussions on the proposals to amend the consent decree,” DOE said in a statement Wednesday. “The department believes that discussions to date have been productive and remains interested in continuing those discussions to develop a mutually acceptable path forward.”

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

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