OLYMPIA - March 3, 1999 - The state of Washington and two federal agencies have signed a legal agreement that will establish a court-enforceable, environmental-risk-based schedule for pumping liquid nuclear waste out of 29 single-shell tanks at Hanford.
The agreement comes eight months after Governor Gary Locke and Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire threatened to sue the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) for failing to meet its commitment to stabilize the tanks. After legal negotiations became deadlocked, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson met with Locke and Gregoire last October to reach an agreement in principle.
- Under the new schedule, USDOE will first pump the tanks that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment, thereby protecting the Columbia River and the public.
- The court-ordered consent decree will replace language in the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) pertaining to tank stabilization.
- 98 percent of the remaining 6 million gallons of liquid waste will be pumped by Sept. 30, 2003; the final 2 percent will be removed by Sept. 30, 2004.
- USDOE will significantly increase funding for tank stabilization, from the current $9.5 million for FY98 to about $35 million in FY2000; the level then will gradually decrease until the stabilization is completed in 2004.
“The people of Washington state have won a major victory in our quest to recover from Hanford's nuclear legacy,” said Locke. “We wanted the Department of Energy to make a sincere commitment to real progress, and this agreement will get us there. This is good news for the environment, and also good news for the economy.”
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“We now have a court-enforceable schedule requiring USDOE to clean up the tanks that pose the greatest risk to the environment and public health first,” said Gregoire. “This new schedule sets strict, realistic deadlines for dealing with the most volatile and dangerous threats to the Columbia River without further delay.”
“Our agreement with the state reflects our shared goal: to manage Hanford's high-level waste in a manner that protects our workers, the public and the Columbia River. We look forward to putting words into action and getting on with the job,” said Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. “The cooperative nature of this solution is just one example of how the department will continue to work with governors to improve our relations with state and local communities nationwide.”
The agreement package, which consists of the consent decree and an amendment to the TPA, will go through a 60-day public-comment period from March 3 through May 3. The amendment to the Tri-Party Agreement calls for deleting sections pertaining to the tank-stabilization project and replacing them with a reference to the consent decree, which will govern the stabilization effort in the future.
After the public-comment period, the consent decree will be filed in the Eastern District of Washington state's U.S. District Court, which will then have jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the decree. For information about the comment process, contact the Department of Ecology via the Hanford Hotline: 800-321-2008.
At least 67 of Hanford's 149 single-shell tanks previously have leaked more than 1 million gallons of radioactive waste. Of the 29 tanks that still contain liquids, pumping currently is under way in four of them. USDOE believes that none of the single-shell tanks currently is leaking.