RICHLAND, Wash. - After almost a decade and $85 million, the U.S. Department of Energy has released its report on cleanup plans for the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington.
Critics say the massive document sidesteps a major question. By law, the feds are supposed to choose a "preferred alternative" for radioactive waste disposal in the Environmental Impact Statement. But for some of the waste, they didn't.
Tom Carpenter, founder and executive director of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge, says that makes the plan inadequate - and maybe even illegal.
"All future cleanup actions depend on what's in this document. It's a 10,000-page study that lays out the alternatives, and the government is supposed to pick the cleanup paths, making sure that the future is protected from Hanford's radioactive and chemical products."
The Washington Department of Ecology also calls the report
"incomplete," although it says the document is technically sound and includes a lot of good information about how to proceed with the Hanford cleanup.
The Ecology Department and the Hanford Challenge both back a method called vitrification, encasing the nuclear waste in glass at a plant on-site - a plant that's had its own problems. And Carpenter says there's too much waste for the plant to handle, and there's nothing in the report on what to do with the rest.
"Is there some other attempt that's going to be made to use glass for that waste? Or are they simply going to leave it at the Hanford site in the tanks, or in grout or concrete, or something like that, which is not going to hold the waste for very long. So, we're objecting to this. We think it's an unacceptable shortcut."
Carpenter says cleanup progress is being made at Hanford, which is a major economic driver in the Tri-Cities. But he adds it will take decades and tens of billions of dollars to complete.
"None of the high-level nuclear waste at Hanford has been cleaned up. It's all still in those underground tanks, a third of which have already leaked. And it certainly adds a lot of pressure on the whole cleanup - but yeah, we've got a long way to go before Hanford is cleaned up."