SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today criticized the recent attempt by the U.S. Department of Energy to extend the schedule for part of its Hanford cleanup.
For more than a year, the Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of Energy, have advocated competing proposals to modify the consent decree governing part of the Hanford cleanup process. The dispute is now being litigated in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington.
Earlier this month, Energy submitted a revised proposed order that pushed back by a full year a 2022 deadline to remove waste from the last nine single-shell tanks to be emptied of waste under the decree.
This change had not previously been a part of Energy’s modification proposal, which has been the subject of litigation since October 2014 and is set to be argued on July 23, 2015. Energy tied the change to lost worker efficiency, as tank farm workers are now wearing self-contained breathing apparatus as protective equipment while retrieving waste from tanks.
“I will hold the Department of Energy accountable to its commitments to protect worker safety and meet agreed-upon timelines for the Hanford cleanup,” Ferguson said. “The danger these tanks represent is well documented. Energy should not use its responsibility to protect workers — a duty it has always had — as a reason to let critical deadlines to clean up Hanford slip further into the distant future.”
Ferguson’s office filed a motion with the court Friday to strike the portions of Energy’s proposal that purported to delay cleanup deadlines.
The Hanford Site is a World War II- and Cold War-era nuclear reservation operated by the U.S. federal government in southeastern Washington. Hanford’s 586 square miles currently house some 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in 177 underground tanks — enough to fill roughly 88 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Most of these tanks are of single-shell construction, and many have leaked.
A federal court consent decree and the Hanford Tri-Party Agreement require USDOE to retrieve and treat Hanford’s tank waste and safely close Hanford’s unfit-for-use single-shell tanks.
The Washington Attorney General's Office has historically played a significant role in enforcing the requirements of the Tri-Party Agreement and ensuring that the cleanup work continues on schedule and in a manner that protects the environment, public health, and the safety of workers performing this important task.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov