Feds, state reach agreement in Hanford cleanup negotiations

May 4, 2023, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
The Hanford Site’s B Complex area tank farm containing waste created during the production of plutonium at the site. (Photo: DOE)

After nearly three years of discussions and more than 60 mediation sessions, the Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that they have reached a conceptual agreement on revising plans for managing millions of gallons of waste stored in tanks at the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash.

The agencies will now draft potential amendments to the Washington v. Granholm consent decree and the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) that reflect the conceptual agreement. The agencies said, however, they are restricted from discussing details of the amendments while the drafting process is underway.

According to the agencies, the conceptual agreement aligns with President Biden’s budget request of $921 million for the Hanford Site for fiscal year 2024.

Background: In 1998, the state of Washington, along with the DOE and EPA, signed the TPA, which sets the terms for completing the cleanup of Hanford in compliance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The TPA, which also contains a number of milestones for completing specific work, has been updated and modified several times since the initial signing to address changing site conditions.

The consent decree was the result of litigation against the DOE by the Washington State Department of Ecology in 2010. The decree, which set several deadlines for the DOE to begin treating Hanford’s radioactive tank waste, has likewise been modified a number of times, most recently in 2022 (Washington v. Granholm) as a result of disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic.

Next steps: Once the proposed consent decree and TPA changes are drafted and approved by state and federal officials, a public notice with detailed information will be shared and public comment periods will be held on the proposed changes. No agreement is final until that public comment process is complete, the federal district court accepts the proposed consent decree amendments, and the agencies execute the proposed revisions.

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