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Hanford Cleanup Policy

Every year, dozens of policy issues are evaluated by the Department of Energy while Hanford Communities’ staff monitor the status of these major policy issues, providing in-depth analysis and information to local government officials. Meanwhile, tangible progress is being made to clean up the Hanford Site and meet the requirements of the Tri-Party Agreement and Consent Decree. Adequate funding must be budgeted to keep the progress on track and not continue to drive lifecycle costs higher. The following priorities reflect these focus areas moving forward.

High Level Waste (HLW) Interpretation

The Hanford Communities is encouraged by a December, 2020 Department of Energy (DOE) report which indicates that up to $210 billion could be saved, and the timeline to complete tank waste treatment could be reduced by 10 years if the revised HLW interpretation is applied at the Hanford Site. This science-based approach would allow DOE to manage and treat waste according to its physical characteristics and risk, rather than simply based on where it originated. If applied at Hanford, this process would open up disposal options other than a deep geologic repository, along with opportunities to permanently ship waste out of Washington state.

The Hanford Communities is equally encouraged by the DOE’s December 15, 2021 Federal Register Notice affirming its interpretation. DOE should continue working with its regulators, the Tri-City community and regional tribes to further pursue this approach. 

Regulatory Environment

The Hanford Communities is very concerned that the current regulatory environment delays rather than enables cleanup progress at Hanford, which ultimately serves to prolong risks to the Tri-City community. DOE and its regulators should emulate successful cleanup efforts elsewhere in the DOE complex where alignment was reached on cleanup priorities, and the appropriate use of regulatory discretion and prioritization was applied, in order to expedite cleanup progress.

Sustained Cleanup Progress

The Hanford Communities believe that cleanup of the Hanford site should be risk based and reflect the community’s concerns and priorities. It should also be cost-effective and based on compliance with cleanup regulations utilizing the best available science, state of the art processes and technologies. To sustain congressional support for cleanup funding, the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office (RL) and the Office of River Protection (ORP) must continue to demonstrate that taxpayer dollars are effectively managed, produce the desired results, and comply with Tri-Party Agreement (TPA) requirements and other legal commitments. 

FY 2023 Hanford Budget Request

While recognizing that there are budgetary realities, the Hanford Communities supports funding for the Hanford cleanup that adequately funds community cleanup priorities.

The TPA and Consent Decree require that DOE request adequate funding to meet legal requirements in the President’s budget. Life-cycle cost analysis should also be provided to communicate the impacts of delaying cleanup work due to less than required funding levels. The Hanford Communities will work with the Energy Communities Alliance and others to request and promote sustained funding levels necessary to meet Environmental Management program commitments. Both DOE-RL and DOE-ORP should receive adequate funding to continue key cleanup activities. All parties need to recognize that the budget request must be realistic and achievable.

Hanford lifecycle cleanup cost estimates released in 2019 indicate that it could require over $11 billion a year for 60 years to complete cleanup as presently envisioned. Funding at that level is not feasible so it will be necessary for DOE, EPA and the State of Washington to identify new strategies that will maximize cleanup progress at realistically achievable funding levels.

Given these funding realities, the Tri-Party Agencies should actively pursue promising new technologies and cleanup options which have the potential to expedite cleanup and reduce costs while meeting realistically achievable cleanup goals. Additionally, adequate funding for startup, commissioning, and operation of the Direct Feed Low Activity Waste Facility (DFLAW) is essential, and funding for technologies to pretreat and grout tank waste for shipment to appropriate licensed facilities out of state should also be supported.

Tri-Party Agreement

Much of the Hanford cleanup strategy falls under the “Tri-Party Agreement” between DOE, EPA and the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology. The Hanford Communities strongly support the intention of the Tri-Party Agreement including changes and amendments, as appropriate, to incorporate such issues as improved technology developments, better scientific understanding and options for efficiencies.

The Tri-Party Agreement was entered into by the parties in May of 1989. There have been six amendments and numerous modifications over the past thirty-two years. The Hanford Communities are concerned that the structure of the Agreement may have outlasted its usefulness in moving toward the shared goal of cleanup and removal of waste from the Site. Strict adherence to the Agreement has led various parties to use its terms as a cudgel which has prevented the parties from achieving their shared goals.

Additionally, the commitments in the TPA are out of date and no longer meet the needs of local communities. The time is right for the Tri-Parties to reexamine the milestones in the agreement, taking into consideration the current site conditions and prioritized risks the next decade, bringing forward a shared vision that includes input from the local community and provides realistic budget assumptions and achievable schedules.

Use of CERCLA in place of RCRA for Nuclear Waste Remediation

The Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) Omnibus report suggested that using CERCLA (Superfund) regulations in place of RCRA makes more sense for radioactive contamination. We were encouraged that state regulators and EPA have met to explore this and other opportunities to seek solutions for management and disposal of waste that reduces cost and improves schedules. We are concerned about the overly burdensome regulatory and permitting processes, and an unwillingness to exercise appropriate regulatory discretion. There are numerous examples at other sites within the DOE-EM complex where this appropriate use of regulatory discretion has led to expedited cleanup progress. Ultimately, we hope that these and other efforts will reduce unnecessary delays in making cleanup progress.

Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain was originally designated to receive high-level defense waste from DOE sites around the country including Hanford’s high-level vitrified tank waste and spent nuclear fuel that has been packaged and stored in the Canister Storage Building. It is also intended as a repository for the commercial spent fuel which is currently being stored north of Richland near the Columbia Generating Station. Without Yucca Mountain, Hanford will become a de-facto high level waste repository. We support congressional funding efforts to complete necessary analysis and get Yucca Mountain open for business.

High Level Nuclear Waste

The Blue-Ribbon Commission Recommendation to establish a new entity dedicated solely to implement the nation’s high level waste management program is endorsed by the Hanford Communities. The establishment of a licensed nuclear repository and an interim storage facility in Eddy County, New Mexico, or in another community interested in hosting a site is also supported.

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