New Milestone Schedule Puts Cleanup Back On Track While Safety Remains a Priority
RICHLAND—On the banks of the Columbia River, U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, Governor Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire announced an agreement in principle to resolve the state's Hanford tank cleanup lawsuit.
At a news conference Richardson, Locke and Gregoire talked about what could be the launching of a new relationship between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the state.
“Secretary Richardson has shown tremendous leadership by making these commitments to clean up Hanford,” Locke said. “We now have a consent decree outlining cleanup timetables and, for the first time, cleanup priorities will be determined by the level of risk.”
“We are pleased to reach an agreement that will continue our efforts to clean up Hanford with a realistic schedule, accommodating safety and technical issues that could arise,” Richardson said. “Obviously disputes aren't going to get the job done.”
The agreement recognizes that unanticipated technical or safety issues may constitute good cause for amending the milestone schedule accommodating safety and technical issues that could arise. The last step is to finalize the tank cleanup schedule which will be done within 60 days.
“It's time to stop the endless delays and get on with the real work of cleaning up Hanford,” Gregoire said. “If they can't, we'll take it to the court. With Secretary Richardson's commitment today we can see action not just words.”
The two state leaders commended Richardson for his personal commitment in working with the state to solve the pressing environmental problems at Hanford.
Last February, Locke and Gregoire said the state needed to see progress in three areas:
- agreement on milestones for the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the K-Basins;
- a signed contract for the treatment of high level waste in the underground storage tanks; and
- agreement on milestones to start pumping the high level waste liquid from the remaining 29 single shell underground tanks.
The latter issue was resolved today.
In June, the state announced its notice of intent to sue DOE for missing two deadlines to begin pumping radioactive waste out of underground storage tanks at Hanford.
Under the 1989 Tri-Party Agreement signed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DOE and the state, DOE agreed to pump the radioactive liquid waste from 149 aging, single-shell tanks into newer, double-shell tanks as an “interim stabilization” measure. However, the interim stabilization project has been plagued with repeated changes and time extensions.
“Hanford poses one of the largest and most important challenges we face in coming to terms with the environmental legacy of the nuclear arms race,” Richardson said. “But we will aggressively work to meet the challenge to protect the people, the wildlife and ultimately the largest freshwater artery of the Pacific Northwest—the Columbia River.”
Locke and Gregoire emphasized that the waste at the Hanford facility is among the most dangerous and long-lived on earth and that it is in everyone's best interest to clean it up as quickly and safely as possible.