30 October 2009

HOANW mention in Tri-City Herald article on TPA Settlement hearing

Hanford waste import moratorium questioned
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

RICHLAND -- Concerns were raised about whether the state can make the federal government stick to its moratorium on importing certain radioactive wastes to the Hanford nuclear reservation at a public hearing Thursday night in Richland.

About 40 people attended the hearing on a proposed settlement agreement reached by the state of Washington and the Department of Energy to resolve a lawsuit brought by the state against DOE almost a year ago. The state sued after it became clear DOE could not meet legal deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement to empty leak-prone underground tanks of radioactive waste and treat the waste.

The proposed settlement agreement would extend deadlines to dates DOE and the state say are realistic. And in one concession for doing that, the state won a commitment from DOE not to import several types of waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is fully operational to treat the waste. That's scheduled for 2022.

While new environmental cleanup deadlines could be enforced either by a federal court order under a consent decree or through the Tri-Party Agreement, neither would cover the moratorium on importing waste to Hanford.

The Department of Justice has given its word in a letter to the state that wastes DOE already had decided to send to Hanford would not be sent at least while the moratorium is in effect. That includes low-level radioactive waste, some of it mixed with hazardous chemicals, that was to be buried in Hanford landfills. It also includes transuranic waste, typically waste contaminated with plutonium, and transuranic waste mixed with hazardous chemicals that were to be stored at Hanford.

In addition, DOE also agreed last week to expand the moratorium to include greater-than-class-C low level waste, which is the most radioactive of the four classes of low level waste. DOE had been considering Hanford among other sites for disposal of the waste.

"I'm confident the current administration will live by the moratorium," said Mary Sue Wilson, Washington state senior assistant attorney general. High-level officials in the Obama administration have backed it, she said.

If a future administration wanted to break the moratorium, a new environmental impact statement, which is a legally required environmental study, would have to be done, she said. The study would have to find technical justification for sending the waste to Hanford for the moratorium to be broken, she said.

The Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement just released included what could be considered technical justification for not sending the waste to Hanford.

"If they do go in another direction, the environmental analysis had better support it," Wilson said. If it didn't the state again could challenge DOE on it, she said.

Gerald Pollet, Heart of America Northwest executive director, disagreed, saying he believed that the moratorium was not enforceable.

Importing waste would have unacceptable impacts to the Hanford environment, said Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge executive director. Hanford has enough problems and complexities to deal with from waste generated there, he said. Hanford produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

"We think Hanford has done its share," he said.

Other issues raised at the meeting included the pace of retrieving waste from Hanford's 149 leak-prone single shell tanks.

The proposed settlement agreement would require all single-shell tanks to be emptied by 2040, an extension of 22 years from the current deadline. DOE has struggled to find ways to empty the tanks efficiently. The proposed settlement agreement also includes several interim deadlines, such as requiring the 16 tanks in the C Tank Farm to be emptied by 2014.

More needs to be done to accelerate the proposed new schedule, including testing more types of technology, said Al Boldt of Kennewick.

DOE would be required under the proposal to empty tanks at a pace of 1.5 tanks per year until 2022, which is about the speed that the state said earlier was far too slow, Pollet said.

The pace of emptying tanks was an issue when the state released an earlier proposed agreement before the lawsuit was filed. To address concerns a requirement has been added to the settlement agreement that would allow deadlines for waste retrieval and treatment to be renegotiated periodically if technology should improve and DOE could do the work faster.

The proposed agreement would extend the start of operations of the vitrification plant from 2011 to a "hot start" with radioactive waste in 2019.

The dates for retrieval and treatment of the tank waste are later than the Hanford Communities had hoped, said Ed Revell, chairman of the Hanford Communities board. But the board is encouraged by DOE commitments to examine new technologies, he said.

It also likes new legal deadlines for speeding up cleanup of ground water, which DOE agreed to amidst discussions on new tank waste deadlines.

Public comments on the proposed settlement agreement are being accepted until Dec. 11. Comments can be e-mailed to TPACH@rl.gov or mailed to Lori Gamache, DOE Office of River Protection, P.O. Box 450, MSIN H6-60, Richland, WA 99352.

1 comment:

  1. Even in Richland, message at public hearing is that the WA-State USDOE settlement needs to include an Enforceable Ban on Use of Hanford as National Radioactive Waste Dump:

    Heart of America Northwest’s message and concerns that the Hanford Clean-Up Agreement needs an enforceable ban on USDOE using Hanford as a national radioactive waste dump dominated Richland hearing, following pattern of Hood River and Portland hearings. Our pre-hearing workshop and Citizens’ Guide effectively enabled the public to raise this as the predominant concern, even in Richland, despite USDOE having a statement read at the start of the Portland and Richland hearings in an effort to discourage public comment on “offsite waste.” See Tri-City Herald coverage below…

    The meetings are being held to take public comment on the draft settlement and Clean-Up Agreement (TPA) changes which would delay the emptying of High-Level Nuclear Waste Single Shell Tanks by 22 years (taking until 2040), and include an unenforceable promise by USDOE to have a moratorium on importing offsite waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is operational.

    In a major victory for our organizing, USDOE reversed course for the second hearing in Portland and announced that it would include in the moratorium the most radioactive wastes which it wants to bury at Hanford. Heart of America Northwest had uncovered a private, undisclosed agreement between USDOE and WA State to allow extremely radioactive wastes (GTCC) to be exempt from USDOE’s proposed moratorium and imported and buried at Hanford. However, USDOE continues to have a “preferred alternative” to use Hanford as a national radioactive and mixed radioactive hazardous waste dump once the moratorium expires, and refuses to even make the moratorium enforceable.

    To discourage public comment on offsite waste and use of Hanford as a national waste dump, USDOE issued a statement to Hanford Clean-Up mailing lists and for the start of each hearing stating that the hearings have “nothing to do with off-site waste,” despite the fact that the settlement with WA State includes the unenforceable promise by USDOE to propose a moratorium on offsite. Even in Richland, however, USDOE’s effort could not dissuade the public from commenting and urging an enforceable provision with the principle of “Clean-Up First”: requiring existing wastes to be brought into compliance and cleaned up before USDOE is allowed to dump more waste at Hanford. Our workshop and testimony included new data from USDOE’s own just-published draft impact statement showing that adding even the lower radioactive wastes to Hanford increases the cancer risk from use of groundwater at Hanford, flowing into the Columbia River, by tenfold over the next several thousand years.