01 April 2010

New Central Hanford Cleanup Deadlines

The Tri-Party Agreement, the legally binding agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology & the Environmental Protection Agency that dictates Hanford cleanup, is undergoing yet some more changes. An article in today's Tri-City Herald, "DOE may face new central Hanford cleanup deadlines," outlines the basics of the changes.

The proposed changes include tighter deadlines for USDOE to cleanup contaminated groundwater in central Hanford, an area called the Central Plateau to those familiar with Hanford lingo. As a trade off, USDOE would have a longer schedule for completing remediation of the contaminated soil ("vadose zone") in the Central Plateau.

The Central Plateau (the tan area on the map to the left) is where the High-Level Nuclear Waste tank farms are located. The cleanup & closure of the tank farms is proposed in the draft Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement (TC & WM EIS), which is still out for public comment until May 3, 2010. However, at the public hearings on the TC & WM EIS, the Department of Energy representatives were adamant that USDOE would not be cleaning up the deep vadose zone under the tanks, which is highly contaminated.

The new milestones for the Central Plateau, however, allow time for USDOE to conduct research and investigate new technologies on how to clean up the contaminated soil before it recontaminates the groundwater. It just goes to show that there's a big difference between the Environmental Protection Agency stating that it's possible & they just need time and USDOE claiming that there's no way and they're not even going to try.

Last year, Heart of America Northwest objected to the fact that some of the changes to the Tri-Party Agreement included unenforceable "target dates" in lieu of enforceable milestones. We have the same concern about this proposal, and will review it thoroughly. We will also be debriefed on the Central Plateau plans at the Hanford Advisory Board meeting in Portland next week, so stay tuned for updates!


  1. The blog post could cause confusion. It would be correct to say that the Tank Closure & Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement doesn't cover deep vadose zone remediation, that is to say contamination deep in the soil, and the proposed changes to the Tri-Party Agreement in this tentative agreement address developing methods and technologies to remediate the deep vadose zone. The Department of Energy has been working on developing technologies to treat the deep vadose zone, and these changes to the TPA will bring more focus to that effort.
    Geoff Tyree
    Department of Energy
    Richland Operations Office

  2. Thanks for your comment, Geoff. I think that there are two confusing factors here:

    1. The Department of Energy's insistence at the TC & WM EIS public hearings that they weren't going to remediate the deep vadose zone is the confusing factor here. The DOE representative didn't mention that the EIS didn't cover that scope of work; the rap was simply along the lines of, "It's too dangerous,the technology doesn't exist, and we're not doing it."

    2. The piecemealing of work into separate documents is a hindrance to public involvement, as evidenced by this Central Plateau change package & the TC & WM EIS. The work they propose is complementary & should have been presented to the public singularly to avoid the confusion we're dealing with now.