Wyden turns up pressure for Hanford cleanup

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on February 19, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 19 at 6:37 PM

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Oregon Senator Ron Wyden had a blistering assessment Tuesday of the situation at Hanford's Nuclear Reservation. After touring the facility with the media in tow, he voiced his unhappiness with the pace of the clean up.

"The combination of a waste disposal plant that is far behind schedule and leaking single and double shelled tanks reinforces my belief about how important this work is," said Wyden. "This should represent an unacceptable threat to the Pacific Northwest for everybody."

Wyden's criticism added to last week's heated comments from Washington Governor Jay Inslee have turned up the pressure on the project higher than it has been in years.

Both Inslee and Wyden say the leaking tanks represent a serious threat, and with some of them now almost 70 years old, they cannot be depended upon much longer. The tanks hold some of the most radioactive waste on the planet and buried in the ground near the Columbia River. An estimated one million gallons of waste has seeped over the decades and reached the groundwater which will eventually feed the river.

The plan has been to construct a plant to  turn the waste in low level radioactive glass and store it in safe place but that plant is years behind schedule and currently suffering from engineering problems that make it unlikely it will make its 2019 deadline for opening. The cost of the half finished plant has mushroomed from $3 billion to $12 billion.

With the firm support of the governors of Oregon and Washington and with Wyden's recent appointment to chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wyden becomes a powerful voice in the future of the project.

A new nominee to head the Department of Energy will have to seek approval from Wyden's committee and he said Tuesday he would vigorously demand Hanford get the attention, budget and resources he feels it deserves.
 

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