Enough stalling on Hanford

In the blur of last week’s news, an inter-governmental battle reached critical mass. It’s wonky, involves multiple acronyms, and pitches up sense-dulling statements.

It also goes to the future of the most contaminated spot in the Western Hemisphere and the federal government’s reckless pattern of heel-dragging.

On April 18, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee gave thumbs down to the U.S Department of Energy’s March 31 proposal to amend the timeline and other features of the 2010 consent decree governing the retrieval and treatment of high-level radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The Hanford consent decree is a binding agreement that flows from a 2008 lawsuit.

Last month, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met with the governor and the attorney general to discuss the federal government’s revised proposal. Inslee and Ferguson were underwhelmed. In October, the Energy Department informed Ferguson that the feds were at “substantial risk” for failing to meet three consent-decree milestones. Those delays will have a domino effect on all the agreed-to deadlines for the Hanford waste-treatment plant designed to transform high-level radioactive waste into glassified “logs.”

“The people of our region made a significant sacrifice for our nation when the U.S. selected the Hanford site to produce plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II,” Ferguson said in a statement Friday. “Today’s announcement should serve as notice to Energy that we are considering taking the next legal step as early as next week.”

For its part, the U.S. Department of Justice (the feds’ army of attorneys against Washington’s platoon) rebuffed the state’s proposed amendments.

“DOE cannot accept it for a number of reasons,” they wrote, “including the fact that it does not adequately account for the realities of technical-issue resolution, project management imperatives, and fiscal constraints.”

“Fiscal constraints” is code for cover-your-budget. DOE has the funding to address what it terms in its just-released strategic plan, “the legal and moral imperative of cleaning up legacy nuclear waste to protect human health and the environment.” (Alas, that moral imperative only merits half a page in DOE’s 32-page vision.)

Inslee and Ferguson will trigger the 40-day dispute-resolution phase as early as today. If that collapses, the issue will be kicked back to the court, which is institutionally prone to do the right thing — something the feds hope to sidestep.

Enough can-kicking. Hanford cleanup needs to become DOE’s highest priority.