State to take legal action to amend 2010 Hanford cleanup agreement

October 3, 2014

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Petition will be filed with U.S. District Court seeking updated deadlines, additional tank storage

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are asking a federal judge to amend a 2010 agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy and establish new requirements for retrieving and treating Hanford’s tank waste and constructing new double-shelled tanks.

The state’s action will seek to keep Hanford cleanup moving forward in spite of the federal government’s claims that it will not be able to meet important cleanup deadlines set in the parties’ 2010 agreement.

Due to delay in the initial startup of waste treatment – which the state believes is the result of USDOE’s failure to manage and address technical issues – the state is seeking new requirements from the Court designed to prevent future delays and to preserve longer-term requirements that will keep the overall tank waste retrieval and treatment efforts on the current long-term legal schedule. The petition to be filed late today follows several months of good faith negotiations between the state and federal government on a path forward, but the parties were unable to come to agreement.

“Although I appreciate Secretary Moniz placing a high priority on Hanford, the simple fact is the Department of Energy has failed to meet important deadlines. We need much stronger accountability to ensure our citizens are protected and the Hanford site is cleaned up,” Inslee said. “Fifty-six million gallons of hazardous chemical and radioactive waste continue to be held in Hanford’s storage tanks – now decades beyond their intended use. I have allowed the federal government substantial time to come forward with a plan that satisfies those obligations and they have been unable to make that commitment so far.”  

The state’s petition to the court will include requests for:

  • New dates for completion of all Waste Treatment Plant facilities.
  • Additional double-shell tank capacity.
  • Pacing deadlines to reduce single-shell tank waste volume by 50 percent by 2031.
  • Additional requirements for reporting and notification to the court.

“Leaking tanks at Hanford present a significant threat to the health of Washington residents and our environment,” Ferguson said. “We must have specificity, accountability, and enforceability for the federal clean-up and treatment of nuclear waste at the Hanford site. Department of Energy has not met these goals.”

The parties have agreed to ask the court to confirm a briefing schedule that will include a request for a hearing date.

The final petition can be found here.

Background:

The state Dept. of Ecology, USDOE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency signed the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 to establish a plan to clean up radioactive and hazardous waste at Hanford.

In 2008, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court when it was clear the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) would be unable to meet key deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement.

The state and federal government settled the lawsuit in 2010 and agreed upon a series of new deadlines for completing the retrieval and treatment of 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive and hazardous waste from Hanford’s 177 underground tanks.

The nearer-term deadlines — including deadlines for constructing and beginning operation of Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant — were included in the 2010 Consent Decree.

Longer-term deadlines, including new final deadlines for retrieving waste from all single-shell tanks no later than 2040 and completing treatment of all tank waste no later than 2047, were established in the Tri-Party Agreement at the same time the Consent Decree was signed. In 2010, these deadlines were moved from 2018 and 2028 respectively.

Within 13 months of signing the 2010 agreement, the federal government informed the state that they would be unable to meet the agreed to Waste Treatment Plant deadlines. Subsequently USDOE informed the state that nearly all of the Consent Decree deadlines would not be met, including the startup of the entire Waste Treatment Plant, which was set to begin operations in 2019.

While the state’s petition acknowledges delays in completion of the Waste Treatment Plant, the state does not propose to extend the final deadlines for retrieving all single-shell tanks and treating all tank waste. The State proposes requirements that will preserve the Tri-Party Agreement schedule.

Media Contact 

Office of the Governor
Jaime Smith
360-902-0617