Gov. Chris Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna today urged Department of Energy (USDOE) Secretary Stephen Chu to take all reasonable steps to adhere to the court-ordered timeline to clean up nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
In a letter sent today, the two state leaders requested that USDOE avoid or minimize delays to the current court-ordered schedule for construction and initial operations of the Waste Treatment Plant as further delay continues to put Washington state at risk.
"Waste held in unfit underground single-shell tanks, many of which have already leaked, threatens the ground water, the river and our public health," the officials wrote.
A court order (or consent decree) signed by Federal District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle in October 2010, sets forth key requirements for USDOE to complete construction and begin operations of each of the major facilities that comprise the Waste Treatment Plant.
Hailed as a landmark agreement when it was approved by the court in 2010, USDOE informed state officials 13 months later that some of the Consent Decree deadlines were "at risk."
"The court ordered the Department [of Energy] to do everything in its power to implement and meet the current schedule," McKenna and Gregoire wrote in their letter. "This includes both addressing technical concerns and aggressively pursuing funding from Congress, internal department resources and other federal sources."
Instead the governor and attorney general expressed concerns that USDOE has apparently decided to ignore the court's order without even evaluating whether maintaining compliance remains technically possible.
"DOE's response to a possible schedule delay must involve USDOE promptly obtaining all information necessary to inform DOE, the State and the Court of the full range of possible responses to the technical issues giving rise to DOE's schedule concerns," the officials said. "We do not believe DOE's actions to date meet this requirement."
The court order allows the state to take USDOE back to court if they believe the federal government is not complying with requirements. Prior to seeking court relief, however, the state and USDOE must engage in discussions aimed at resolving their dispute during a 40-day "dispute resolution" period.
State officials have postponed invoking dispute resolution pending the Secretary's response--which is requested by Sept. 26, 2012.
Chu will be in Richland next week meeting with a panel of technical experts on issues related to the Waste Treatment Plant.
"I am grateful that Secretary Chu is providing personal attention to these serious issues and involving additional experts in his review," Gregoire said. "Secretary Chu has indicated that he will discuss the results of his review with me and I look forward to hearing his plans for satisfying the Consent Decree requirements."
Recent news reports also revealed an August memorandum from USDOE's Engineering Design Director Gary Brunson to USDOE Office of River Protection Manager Scott Samuelson describing concerns about Bechtel National Inc (BNI's) performance as the Design Authority for the Waste Treatment Plant and recommending that the role of Design Authority be removed from the company.
"We have been following many of the technical issues described in the memo for some time, and while we understand the issues to be serious, they can be resolved," McKenna said. "DOE, as the owner of the site and the entity responsible for meeting requirements set forth by the court, is responsible for ensuring that the plant runs safely and effectively for 40 years."
To read a copy of the letter, visit: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/20120830_hanford.pdf