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Watchdogs Disappointed Hanford Deadlines Likely to be Missed

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State officials say they’re disappointed but not surprised by news that the federal government will likely miss several more cleanup deadlines at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

At Hanford, radioactive sludge stews in aging underground tanks not far from the Columbia River. A 1989 agreement created the timeline for treating that caustic gunk. But the task has proven extremely difficult. A Waste Treatment Plant has been plagued by whistleblowers, critical federal investigations, cost overruns, and delays. 

Now Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz says that the federal government and its contractors will likely miss three more key deadlines before 2022, and possibly need to redesign major parts of the plant.

“The Department of Energy notified the States of Washington and Oregon that a serious risk has arisen that the Department may be unable to meet the Consent Decree milestone for completing hot commissioning of the Low Activity Waste Facility and two related milestones,” the department said in a statement. “The Department is making these notifications out of an abundance of caution and looks forward to discussing the circumstances with the State as we continue to engage on a path forward.”

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the news “yet another setback.” 

And Suzanne Dahl, the tank waste treatment manger for the Washington Department of Ecology, says the Waste Treatment Plant is essential.

“We can’t afford to throw up our hands,” Dahl said.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.