Washington Governor Jay Inslee said Wednesday he is encouraged by plans to pump radioactive waste from leaking tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Site, process it and send it to New Mexico.
For Inslee it was a silver lining in the dark cloud hanging over the Hanford project after the Department of Energy announced upwards of $180 million in sequestration cuts.
"I think this is a step in the right direction," said Inslee.
Inslee has been highly critical of the pace of the clean-up and the recent announcement that six tanks are believed to be leaking hundreds of gallons of waste into the soil and eventually the ground water every year.
Inslee criticized Congress for allowing the sequestration cuts that DOE said may curtail progress of draining the aging tanks before more leaks occur.
The waste is left over from the production of nuclear weapons including one used to end World War II when it was dropped on Japan.
The newly elected governor said it was pressure coming from his office and others that led to Wednesday's announcement to send 3 million gallons of treatable nuclear waste from most of the leaking tanks to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
That facility can only handle treatable or transuranic radioactive waste by storing in deep underground formations. It cannot store any of Hanford's millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste. That waste is to be treated at an unfinished plant at Hanford that is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
The transuranic waste, which is less radioactive than some of the sludge at Hanford, accounts for a fraction of the roughly 50 million gallons of waste there currently.
Inslee told reporters the federal government has to get that project completed and the waste removed because the state of Washington suffered damage in the name of national defense and deserves to get a clean site in return.
Don Hancock, of the Albuquerque-based watchdog group Southwest Research and Information opposing the transfer to New Mexico, said this is not the first time DOE has proposed bringing more waste to the plant near Carlsbad.
"This is a bad, old idea that's been uniformly rejected on a bipartisan basis by politicians when it came up in the past, and it's been strongly opposed by citizen groups like mine and others," Hancock said. "It's also clear that it's illegal."