Feds: Nuke site cleanup request is too expensive

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 08, 2014 1:27 PM

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — Cleanup deadlines sought by the state of Washington for the nation's most polluted nuclear weapons production site would require an extra $18 billion over the next 14 years and should be rejected as too expensive, the federal government said in a court filing.

The U.S. Department of Justice said getting that much money for the project at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation would jeopardize other nuclear cleanup projects across the nation.

The Justice Department and the state of Washington filed documents on Friday in U.S. District Court in the state's lawsuit seeking a swifter cleanup of Hanford, The Tri-City Herald (http://bit.ly/1qkOMqa) reported Sunday.

The state criticized federal management of Hanford and urged the court to require tight oversight of Hanford's leak-prone underground waste tanks and construction of a $13 billion vitrification plant — the largest capital construction project in the country — to treat the waste for eventual burial.

For decades, Hanford made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and the radioactive waste stems from that work.

Friday was the deadline for both parties to respond to competing proposals for new deadlines after the U.S. Department of Energy said most of the remaining timelines in a consent decree were at serious risk of being missed.

The state wants a highly structured consent decree with more than 100 new deadlines to keep DOE on track, but the Department of Justice said in court documents the demands were unrealistic.

"The state's proposal would . require a dramatic and unrealistic increase in funding that, if mandated, would jeopardize DOE's ability to carry out ongoing cleanup operations on other parts of the Hanford site and at other sites across the country," the documents state.

The construction of the plant along with tank waste management already receive about $1.2 billion annually — more than one-fifth of the annual budget for DOE environmental cleanup work across the nation.

The state's proposal over the next five years would require $4 billion, in addition to the current level of annual funding, the federal government said.

The Department of Justice also objected that the state's proposal would illegally expand the scope of the consent decree by requiring new storage tanks and new treatment facilities.

The consent decree, signed in 2010, resolved a 2008 lawsuit by the state as it became apparent that DOE could not meet an earlier set of deadlines for the plant and waste tanks.

Construction work has fallen being schedule at the plant primarily because of technical issues, the federal government said.

In its filing, the state contended that the Energy Department seeks to eliminate most hard deadlines in favor of a process for establishing future deadlines.

The construction project "should be matched with the best project management plans in the country," the state said. "Energy, however, implies that such planning is impossible."

___

Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com