Send a Note by April 17, 2015 to Thank State Leaders for Holding the Federal Government Accountable for Hanford’s Nuclear Legacy
Cleaning up the most contaminated site in the United States requires bold leadership. That’s why Columbia Riverkeeper and partners are gathering thank you notes to Washington State leaders who are holding the U.S. Department of Energy (Energy) accountable for Hanford’s nuclear legacy.
Critical Hanford Cleanup Deadlines Missed
In recent years, Energy, the federal agency responsible for cleaning up nuclear and hazardous waste at Hanford, has fallen woefully behind schedule. Washington State, Energy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency entered a historic agreement in 1989 that established the framework for decades of actions and deadlines to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most contaminated site in the nation. The agreement, known as the Tri-Party Agreement, is the bedrock of Hanford cleanup. But Energy has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
In 2008, Washington sued the federal government for missing, or being on track to miss, major Tri-Party Agreement milestones. This included missing deadlines for building the multibillion-dollar Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), retrieving waste from single-shell tanks, and treating tank waste.
In 2010, Washington State and Energy settled the lawsuit by entering into a Consent Decree, which is essentially a court-enforceable contract. Under the 2010 Consent Decree, Washington State and Energy agreed to new deadlines that address some of the most critical aspects of Hanford cleanup, including emptying radioactive and toxic waste buried in single-shell underground tanks and building a state-of-the-art waste treatment facility. Importantly, Energy and Washington State agreed that if Energy missed more deadlines, the State could hold Energy accountable in federal court.
Washington State’s Bold Action
Unfortunately, Energy has not lived up to the commitments it made in the 2010 Consent Decree. In October 2014, Washington State took legal action to enforce the 2010 Consent Decree. Missed deadlines at issue in the court petition to amend the Consent Decree include:
- All remaining deadlines for building and starting up the WTP, which will treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste left from the past production of weapons plutonium. Those deadlines include having the plant at full operation in 2022.
- Partially missing deadlines for emptying an initial group of leak-prone single-shell tanks (only 13 of the 16 tanks in the C Tank Farm were emptied by the September 2014 deadline).
The state’s petition is currently pending in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Washington before Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson. In the petition, Washington State is proposing new cleanup actions and deadlines, including:
- A much-expanded list of 100 new deadlines and other requirements to prevent future delays and ensure that Energy continues progress toward meeting the long-term legal schedule for emptying tanks and treating waste.
- A new proposed deadline of 2031 for the WTP to start operating, with additional treatment capacity on line the next year.
- Requiring treatment of some waste — low-activity waste — to start in 2022.
- Eight new double-shell tanks built to store 8 million gallons of radioactive and toxic waste by 2024.
On February 19, 2015, Judge Peterson heard the first round of oral arguments on proposed changes to the 2010 Consent Decree. The court could take different approaches to resolving the case. For example, the court could: (1) issue a definitive ruling establishing new Consent Decree deadlines and actions, (2) direct the parties to engage in additional settlement negotiations, or (3) request more briefing on specific topics to inform a final decision. The court is not under any deadline to issue a decision and did not indicate a timeline for resolving the case. In the interim, there are no ongoing settlement negotiations planned between Energy and Washington State.
We have an opportunity to praise state leaders for acting in the public interest and holding the federal government accountable for cleaning up Hanford’s nuclear legacy. Send a thank you note to Governor Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon, and Ecology Nuclear Waste Program Manager Jane Hedges. Consider adding a personal story to the note explaining how Hanford cleanup impacts you and the future of the Columbia River.
Spread the word by posting this on Facebook, Twitter or by emailing to friends. Sample post to share: Thank Washington State Leaders for Holding the Federal Government Accountable for Hanford’s Nuclear Legacy Make your voice heard today! bit.ly/hanford-cleanup
For more information on the 2010 Consent Decree legal action and its implications for Hanford cleanup, visit:
- Washington Attorney General’s Hanford website
- Press Release announcing the court petition
- Tri-City Herald article on the February 2015 court hearing
This product was funded through a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology. While these materials were reviewed for grant consistency, this does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Ecology.