The state of Washington is preparing to take the most aggressive action in four years against the U.S. Department of Energy for the federal government’s failure to follow waste laws and legally binding clean up schedules at the Hanford Site - a sign of state officials' growing frustration with lack of progress in the decades-long nuclear waste cleanup.
The more aggressive stance will come in two parts, according to email communications obtained by KING 5. On Friday, the state Department of Ecology will order a new, faster timetable for pumping out a massive double-shell waste tank -- designated AY-102 -- that is slowly leaking highly radioactive waste. Next week, the state will communicate to the Department of Energy and the Department of Justice that the government is in violation of the 2010 consent decree governing the Hanford cleanup -- a step that could lead to court action to force more changes at Hanford.
The two actions come days after Gov. Jay Inslee met with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in Olympia to discuss the government's plan for starting up the Waste Treatment Plant -- a $13 billion project to convert the most deadly radioactive waste at Hanford into stable glass logs for long-term storage. The plant is already years behind schedule, with work halted on a key part over concerns that the technology could fail and spew radiation over the nearby Tri-Cities.
According to an email written by Inslee’s senior environmental policy adviser, Friday’s action is to present an Administrative Order to the Energy Department on “the inadequate AY-102 pump plan." On March 7 the federal government, which owns Hanford, submitted a plan to begin pumping the leaking double-shell tank two years from now at the earliest. State and federal waste laws require leaking tanks to be emptied within 24 hours or whatever is practical. Tank AY-102 has been at the center of a year-long KING 5 investigation, Hanford’s Dirty Secrets.
After meeting with Moniz, Inslee said the Energy secretary's briefing failed to satisfy the state's demands that the Hanford cleanup be expedited. Specifically, the Energy Department had agreed to have the Waste Treatment Plant in initial operation by 2019 and in full production mode by 2022. The federal government has already said it will miss those deadlines by years.
Both the governor and Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued statements after the Moniz meeting saying the state was considering legal action to force the government to live up to its agreements at Hanford.
According to internal state emails obtained by KING, representatives from Gov. Inslee’s office and the Department of Ecology gave Sen. Patty Murray a “high-level debrief” on the state’s new consent decree plan on Tuesday.
Hanford is considered one of the most contaminated places on the planet. Located in southeastern Washington, the 586-square-mile reservation was home to massive factories that produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal. Starting in 1943 and lasting until 1989, the plutonium production produced huge volumes of waste, including 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid and sludge that's been kept in carbon steel tanks.