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00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d430000The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington was home to Native Americans and later to settlers. It turned into an top-secret military workhorse during World War II and the Cold War. Now, it’s one of the most pressing and complex environmental cleanup challenges humanity is facing in the world.This remote area in southeast Washington is where the federal government made plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War. It’s now home to some of the most toxic contamination on earth, a witch’s brew of chemicals, radioactive waste and defunct structures. In central Hanford, leaking underground tanks full of radioactive sludge await a permanent solution. Meanwhile, a massive $12 billion waste treatment plant, designed to bind up that tank waste into more stable glass logs, has a troubled history.00000179-65ef-d8e2-a9ff-f5ef8d440000Anna King is public radio's correspondent in Richland, Washington, covering the seemingly endless complexities of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Court-Ordered Negotiations Between Feds, Washington State Are Up

Anna King
Northwest News Network

This week is the deadline for the State of Washington and the U.S. Department of Energy to reach an agreement on how to clean up radioactive tank waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The two sides can’t agree on a timeline.

But with this week’s 40-day deadline it seems the state and the Energy Department have very different views of where things are.

In statements released this week, the Department of Energy said, “The discussions to date have been constructive.” Meanwhile, the state said that after 40 days, the parties haven’t reached an agreement and is “considering its options.” That could mean legal action.

So far, top officials from Washington state and the federal government have had two face-to-face meetings, one in early May in Washington, D.C., and another in Richland on May 21. Those meetings weren’t public.

And information about those discussions is tight. The problem the two governments are trying to hammer out involves an agreement signed by both of them back in 2010. It set deadlines for the retrieval of Hanford’s tank waste and for building and operating a massive factory that would bind up the sludge in glass logs at Hanford.

The Energy Department has told state officials most of the deadlines in that agreement, aren’t going to fly. It says the work is more complicated and they need steady money from Congress to meet the deadlines.


Full U.S. Department of Energy statement:
“The Department of Energy has engaged in good faith discussions with the State of Washington about the proposals to amend the Consent Decree. DOE believes the discussions to date have been constructive and is hopeful that such discussions can continue.”

Full Washington state statement:
“The state triggered dispute resolution on April 23 after the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) rejected the state’s proposed Consent Decree amendments. (USDOE also triggered dispute resolution on April 25 after the state rejected USDOE’s proposed amendments.) The Consent Decree requires that the parties engage in a minimum 40-day dispute resolution period before either party can petition the court for relief.

"The state and federal government have discussed their respective proposals in good faith over the past several weeks. Forty days (as measured from the state’s triggering of dispute resolution) have now run without the parties reaching agreement. The state is considering its options and will describe its next step when it makes a decision.”

“The Consent Decree, signed in 2010, set deadlines for the retrieval of Hanford’s tank waste and for building and operating the Waste Treatment Plant. USDOE has since informed the state that most of the deadlines in that agreement are at risk. On March 31, the state proposed a detailed plan to prevent further delays in the cleanup of Hanford’s radioactive and hazardous tank waste.”

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.