The feds show their hand

Attention to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation corresponds to its distance from Washington, D.C.’s political class. If Hanford and its 56 million gallons of highly radioactive crud sat on the Potomac and not the Columbia River, care and attention to its clean-up might be a wee more pronounced.

On Monday, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met with Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to discuss the federal government’s revised clean-up proposal. Flying to Olympia with his department team, Moniz hoped to avoid triggering the 2010 Hanford Cleanup Consent Decree, a binding agreement that flows from a 2008 lawsuit. But bypassing the decree’s legal hammer requires delivering more than good intentions. After their meeting, the governor sounded underwhelmed.

“Unfortunately, the draft that was shown to us this morning did not contain the comprehensiveness and level of detail that the state has requested for months from our federal partners,” Inslee said in a statement.

Last June, Moniz informed Inslee that the department wouldn’t meet two 2014 deadlines related to the consent decree. These projects include waste retrieval from two of Hanford’s aging single-shell tanks and finishing construction of a Low Activity Waste Facility (“low activity” being the operative description of work thus far.) The department has missed two other waste-treatment deadlines sans explanation.

“We made it clear last month we were expecting a comprehensive plan for a path forward, and I was disappointed with the scope of the federal government’s approach,” Ferguson said. “My legal team and I will be reviewing the information we received today and continuing our work to provide all available legal options to our clients — the governor and the Department of Ecology — to enforce the obligations set forth in our 2010 consent decree and the Tri-Party Agreement requiring the U.S. Dept. of Energy to clean up the Hanford site.”

Last year, the Energy Department announced that seven of 177 underground tanks at Hanford were leaking (a “decrease of liquid level” in department-speak.) Inslee worked to develop a friendly dialogue with the new Energy secretary, hoping that soft elbows would persuade a hidebound department to keep its promises.

Say goodbye to the soft elbows. The governor and attorney general are prepared to trigger the consent decree, ideally acting before the end of the month.

The end game is a real cleanup in real time. There’s no other choice.

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