Washington reaches settlement with DOE in Hanford data access spat

September 19, 2023, 9:32AMRadwaste Solutions
A Department of Ecology inspector at the Hanford Site. (Photo: Department of Ecology)

Washington state’s Department of Ecology said it has reached a settlement with the Department of Energy over access to data the state described as “critical” to the cleanup of the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash.

The settlement agreement comes four years after Ecology said the DOE missed its mandated deadline to meet the state’s information requirements. Ecology maintains that the DOE is legally required to provide access to Hanford data under the Tri-Party Agreement that governs the cleanup of the nuclear site, and that restricting access to the data impairs the state’s ability to maintain its regulatory oversight.

Background: Ecology fined the DOE $1.065 million in 2020 for restricting the state’s access to the data, which details the extent of Hanford’s soil and groundwater contamination, how hazardous waste is managed, the status of underground storage tanks, progress made in cleaning up contamination, and more.

The DOE appealed the fine to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board, which upheld Ecology’s determination that the DOE was not complying with the Tri-Part Agreement. The board, however, reduced the penalty to the DOE to $540,000. The DOE again appealed, but a stay was put on the case while the two parties negotiated the settlement.

The agreement: As part of the settlement agreement, the DOE is required to create a repository for Ecology to access Tri-Party Agreement–relevant documents. In addition, the DOE will invest $540,000, the amount of the reduced penalty, in two environmental restoration projects at the Hanford Site.

According to Ecology, the agencies will continue to work together as specified in the settlement to determine which records and data will be added to the repository to fulfill ongoing data requirements.

“Our job is to protect the people and environment in Washington. In order to do our job, we need access to basic documents the U.S. Department of Energy is required to provide,” said Ecology director Laura Watson.

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