SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The cleanup of the nation's largest collection of radioactive waste left over from the production of nuclear weapons was supposed to be nearing an end by now.
Twenty five years ago, a landmark agreement was signed to deal with the millions of gallons of waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington. More than $30 billion has already been spent under the so-called Tri-Party Agreement signed by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington state Department of Ecology.
If everything had gone according to plan, the work would be only about five years away from completion. But Hanford officials are still decades and tens of billions of dollars away from finishing the cleanup of the radioactive mess.
WHAT IS HANFORD?
The sprawling Hanford site was created north of Richland during World War II to make plutonium for atomic bombs. The site is half the size of Rhode Island, and included nine nuclear reactors that produced nuclear weapons material during the Cold War. Left behind is the nation's largest volume of nuclear defense waste, including 177 giant underground storage tanks that contain the most toxic radioactive brew. The site has more than 8,000 employees.
WHAT IS THE TRI-PARTY AGREEMENT?
Faced with an unprecedented cleanup problem, the federal and state governments signed the Tri-Party Agreement on May 15, 1989. It had three main goals, said John Price, Tri-Party Agreement manager for the state Department of Ecology in Richland: Define the work to be done; schedule that work; smooth relations between the three agencies, so they were not constantly battling in court.
WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG?
Price points to a combination of the scientific complexity of the work and the limits of the federal budget. The cleanup budget is currently about $2 billion per year, which is not enough to meet agreement deadlines, Price said. It needs to be $3 billion to $3.5 billion a year to stay on schedule, Price said. Half of Hanford spending goes to "keeping the lights on," Price said, with the other half going to actual cleanup work.
Continue reading this story on the...