Guest Opinions

Guest Column: Tri-Party agreement has become government crutch

The Hanford Story

This 2011 multimedia presentation provides an overview of the Hanford Site—its history, cleanup activities, and a glimpse into the possibilities of future uses of the 586-square-mile government site in southeast Washington State.
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This 2011 multimedia presentation provides an overview of the Hanford Site—its history, cleanup activities, and a glimpse into the possibilities of future uses of the 586-square-mile government site in southeast Washington State.

The Tri-Party Agreement Op-Ed article by former Governor Christine Gregoire and former Department Of Energy Hanford Site Manager Mike Lawrence provided an excellent history of the last 30 years of cleanup activities at Hanford under the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA).

Chris and Mike are correct, there has been a tremendous amount of cleanup work accomplished under the TPA, particularly along the Columbia River Corridor. These accomplishments were not easy, nor inexpensive — and the workers and contractors should be commended for their cleanup achievements to this point.

However, when the Tri-Party Agreement was signed 30 years ago, none of the signees could have guessed that the life-cycle costs to complete the cleanup of Hanford would grow to an estimated range of $323 billion to $677 billion, or that cleanup could possibly take 100 years to complete. Tri-City community leaders believe the levels of Congressional funding required going forward are simply not sustainable.

In 30 years under the TPA, with regulatory authority shared between the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency, not a single gallon of the 56 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in 177 underground tanks has been treated or disposed of through TPA schedules and milestones.

The most impressive cleanup work was accomplished under federal regulations enforced by the EPA verses state regulations enforced by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The effectiveness of the Tri-Party Agreement is being tested in court with both TPA and court-mandated milestones regularly being missed, in part because funding has been inadequate due to continuing resolutions, Omnibus bills, and reduced Administration budget requests, but also in part due to the Department of Ecology’s regulatory overreach resulting in what appears to many of us to be a bias for delay verses action.

For example, the state has not supported the Department of Energy’s efforts to demonstrate new technologies and processes that would reduce costs and schedules for Hanford cleanup, and thereby reduce the estimated life-cycle cost burden on the taxpayers.

Last year in a DOE demonstration of an alternative supplemental treatment project called the Test Bed Initiative (TBI), 3 gallons of low-activity tank waste were treated commercially and shipped out-of-state for final disposal.

This year the TBI project was continuing a demonstration designed to remove 2,000 gallons of low-level mixed waste from the tanks, process it commercially and ship it to Texas for final disposal in a commercial facility designed for such waste, when the testing was stopped by the Washington State Dept of Ecology’s new requirement for an RD&D permit for DOE and continued holdup of the commercial contractor’s permit (applied for 10 years ago in 2009).

DOE expects the TBI project will demonstrate that commercial processing and disposal of low-level waste from Hanford tanks can be done years earlier and at costs some 80 percent less than vitrification of the same waste through the unfinished $17 billion Waste Treatment Plant.

This demonstration project provides a means to empty aging underground storage tanks sooner, augment the Waste Treatment Plant if further delays are encountered, and most importantly, make near-term progress in completing the mission of liquid waste cleanup at Hanford.

The Department of Ecology should support this treatment of low-level tank waste, with fixed-price commercial off-site treatment and disposal out of the State of Washington.

Taxpayers deserve these new innovative concepts, as do eastern Washingtonians who live near the Hanford Site and don’t want to wait into next century to finish cleanup of Hanford!

When the Tri-Party Agreement was signed in 1989, Hanford was expected to be completely cleaned up by 2020. The current schedule (without new treatment methods) extends into the next century.

Bob Ferguson, Bill Lampson and Gary Petersen are three Tri-City businessmen who successfully sued the Obama Administration for stopping the Yucca Mountain project.

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