Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday said the state is unhappy with the Department of Energy's plans for cleaning up millions of gallons of nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in eastern Washington.
A presentation on the cleanup effort was delivered to Inslee by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at a meeting in the governor's office in Olympia.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Inslee said "the draft that was shown to us this morning did not contain the comprehensiveness and level of detail that the State has requested for months from our federal partners."
The governor said he would consult with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and officials at the state Department of Ecology to determine the state's next actions and that he "will have more to say on this matter in the coming days.”
On Monday afternoon, Inslee said that before taking the Energy Department to court, the state has judicial and arbitration options it can take to force the federal government to draft a more comprehensive plan for the clean up. He also said he expects some action on this within the next few weeks but would not elaborate.
Ferguson issued a separate statement reiterating that his office is continuing to review the state's legal options for enforcing the federal government's legal obligation to clean up Hanford.
An Energy Department statement issued Monday afternoon noted that "technical challenges" with a key part of the cleanup plan still need to be addressed. "Given the change in approach required by the technical issues, the Department has provided its plans as currently available, sought the State's feedback, and looks forward to taking that into account and providing additional information in the near-term," the department's statement said.
Plutonium production at Hanford started during World War II and continued until the late 1980s, leaving behind a dangerous radioactive legacy. Billions have been spent to date on the cleanup, but the most difficult challenge remains -- how to treat 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste so that it can be permanently stored for thousands of years.
Tanks holding that waste are well beyond their design lifetimes, and at least one massive double-shell tank has been confirmed to be leaking waste from its inner shell. Meanwhile, work on a multi-billion-dollar treatment plant remains on hold after experts raised concerns about its safety. That plant is supposed to convert the liquid waste into solid glass logs through a process called vitrification.
Already decades behind schedule, the Hanford cleanup is expected to last at least until the middle of this century, costing taxpayers $2 to $3 billion annually.
Gov. Inslee's full statement is below:
“Safe and successful cleanup of the nuclear waste stored at Hanford is of utmost priority for the people of Washington state and the Pacific Northwest. The federal government has a moral and legal obligation to oversee the successful cleanup of the waste that remains. Fifty-six million gallons of hazardous and radioactive waste continue to be held in Hanford’s storage tanks - now decades beyond their intended use. I and others have called for a comprehensive plan that will lead to an effective cleanup plan. We have eagerly awaited an acceptable plan to protect the public health, the environment of our state and Columbia River.
“As such, I have appreciated the attention that Secretary Moniz has given to Hanford since assuming office last year, and that he has come to Olympia today to present the Energy Department’s perspective and a draft cleanup plan. Unfortunately, the draft that was shown to us this morning did not contain the comprehensiveness and level of detail that the State has requested for months from our federal partners. While there are aspects of the plan that have merit, we need to have assurance that the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposal will lead to a plan that will be acceptable to the State. I have been considering the State’s options for ensuring an effective and safe Hanford cleanup. In light of today’s meeting, I will be consulting with Attorney General Bob Ferguson and my Department of Ecology and will have more to say on this matter in the coming days.”
Full statement from Attorney General Ferguson:
“The Attorney General’s Office has a long-standing commitment to the people of Washington to hold the federal government legally accountable for environmental cleanup at Hanford.
I appreciate Secretary Moniz and his team personally visiting Washington state to discuss the challenges the federal government is facing in meeting its legal obligations. We had a candid conversation regarding our state’s expectations for ensuring the safety of the people of our region. We made it clear last month we were expecting a comprehensive plan for a path forward, and I was disappointed with the scope of the federal government’s approach.
"My legal team and I will be reviewing the information we received today and continuing our work to provide all available legal options to our clients-- the Governor and the Dept. of Ecology-- to enforce the obligations set forth in our 2010 consent decree and the Tri-Party Agreement requiring the U.S. Dept. of Energy to clean up the Hanford site.”
The Department of Energy issued the following statement on Monday afternoon:
“Secretary Moniz appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Governor Inslee and his team to discuss the key issue of Hanford cleanup. Today’s productive meeting was part of the ongoing dialogue between the Department of Energy and the State of Washington on the path forward for the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant project. The Secretary shared his vision for a path forward that moves to vitrification expeditiously while recognizing the need to solve remaining technical challenges prior to building certain parts of the project. Given the change in approach required by the technical issues, the Department has provided its plans as currently available, sought the State's feedback, and looks forward to taking that into account and providing additional information in the near-term.
“DOE remains committed to the safe treatment of the tank waste and the completion of the cleanup at Hanford. DOE is committed to working with the State of Washington, Congress and other key stakeholders to move this important project and important mission forward.”
KING 5 producer Russ Walker contributed