The cleanup of the radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is, once again, getting short shrift. The federal government continues to fail to meet its responsibility to decontaminate the area where the radioactive material was produced that was used to make the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 to end World War II.
The Washington state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Department of Energy, now under control of the Trump administration, are at odds over the direction of the most difficult and expensive part of that cleanup project, which is finding a way to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in 177 aging (and leaking) tanks. But to be clear, tensions have been high through administrations of presidents from both parties.
Hanford cleanup is wildly expensive and each administration opts to skimp on Hanford funding and spend elsewhere on things that make voters happier.
The latest standoff between the state and federal government has intensified as state Ecology Department Director Maia Bellon wrote in a six-page letter to the DOE that it needs to negotiate a new path for the cleanup effort. She warned of litigation, according to The Seattle Times.
Construction has been halted on two partially-built plants that were part of a $17 billion complex designed to turn the waste into inert glass rods for safe long-term storage. Bellon took issue with the state being left out of the decision-making process for those cuts.
In her May 29 letter to Anne White, an Energy Department assistant secretary responsible for the federal nuclear site, Bellon said the cleanup of tank wastes is at a “critical juncture.” She called for the tank waste treatment to be completed as close to court-ordered timetables as possible, according to The Times.
Adding to the controversy, according to Times’ reporting, is an Energy Department proposal to change the definition of high-level radioactive waste, allowing more materials in Hanford tanks to be classified as low-level waste. If the definition is changed, more of the waste could bypass the treatment complex and be disposed of through less costly and more dangerous options.
That’s easy to accept in Washington, D.C., 3,000 miles away, but not 66 miles away as is Walla Walla.
Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson declared their “strong opposition” to the proposal earlier this year, saying it to would leave “the Columbia River and the surrounding community with unacceptable levels of risk.”
The nuclear waste at Hanford is there for national defense purposes. The nation has a responsibility to clean up this nuclear mess.
Cutting funding or using weasel words in legal documents to avoid responsibility is not acceptable. The state Department of Ecology is doing the right thing in pushing for accountability from the Department of Energy.