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Feds notify Washington, Oregon about Hanford delays

The Department of Energy dumped some bad news on state officials about the Hanford nuclear waste site. The feds are on the verge of missing two cleanup deadlines.

The Department of Energy dumped some bad news on state officials about the Hanford nuclear waste site. The feds are on the verge of missing two cleanup deadlines.

“We’re very concerned because those are deadlines they’ve agreed to, they are legally responsible for,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Ferguson said the deadlines were for removal of waste from two of the aging storage tanks, and the construction of a plant that will convert nuclear waste into glass for storage underground. The DOE is supposed to have the waste storage tanks emptied by September 2014, with a new waste treatment facility completed by December 2014.

“This news is disturbing. The cleanup of Hanford is a top priority for myself and for the leadership of the state of Washington and I intend to do everything I can and use the powers of my office to make sure the federal government meets its obligations under that legally enforceable agreement,” said State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

The department must provide the state with specific reasons for the delays, the environmental risks of those delays and a proposed recovery schedule for completing the projects, Ferguson said in the statement.

The federal government created the Hanford site in the 1940s as part of the top-secret project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup expected to last decades and cost billions of dollars.

A 1989 agreement that governs the cleanup has been amended numerous times over the years. The agreement establishes deadlines for a long list of activities, including tearing down contaminated buildings, treating contaminated groundwater and emptying underground tanks of highly radioactive waste.

In 2010, the Energy Department entered into a legally-binding consent decree after Washington state sued over repeated missed deadlines. That decree established deadlines for emptying 19 of Hanford’s 177 aging underground tanks, which hold 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste.

The cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site has already cost $36 billion, and could ultimately cost another $115 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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