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The Tri-Party Agreement: A Framework for Hanford Cleanup

Jun 7, 2024

After plutonium production ended at Hanford there was a great deal of uncertainty about the path forward for the Site, including the plan for cleanup.  On May 15, 1989, the plan began to take shape when the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology came together to sign the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA). This comprehensive cleanup and compliance agreement set the stage for a massive effort to clean up radioactive and chemical contamination.

The TPA is a detailed plan designed to meet federal laws for hazardous waste cleanup. It outlines how the cleanup will be conducted, assigns specific responsibilities, and sets enforceable milestones to ensure progress and compliance.  It is supplemented by the Consent Decree, which was approved in federal court and sets additional milestones for cleanup.

Key Goals of the TPA

The TPA has several crucial objectives:

  • Prioritize Cleanup: The agreement defines and ranks cleanup commitments.
  • Assign Roles: It clearly defines the responsibilities of each party involved.
  • Budgeting: Provides an outline for budget planning.
  • Ensure Compliance: It sets deadlines and milestones for cleanup projects.

The Structure of the TPA

The TPA is composed of two main documents:

  • The Legal Agreement: This document specifies the roles, responsibilities, and dispute resolution procedures for the three parties.
  • The Action Plan: This plan outlines the steps for cleanup, including specific milestones and timelines.

Since its establishment, the TPA has continuously evolved to address emerging challenges. Initially comprising 161 milestones and target dates, it has now grown to encompass over 1,500 milestones. Central to the TPA is the inclusion of public input, which is integral to decision-making processes.

Recent Updates: The 2024 Settlement Agreement

In April, nearly 35 years after the original TPA was signed, significant revisions were announced. After four hears of ‘Holistic Negotiations’, the Tri-Party agencies released a proposed Settlement Agreement, which introduces several key mandates:

  • Utilization of grout treatment and permanent out of state disposal of low-activity waste from 22 tanks
  • Department of Energy agrees not to apply its interpretation of “high-level waste” at Hanford
  • Reduces the number of single-shell tanks to be retrieved by 2040 from 149 to 49
  • Design and construction of 1 million gallons of new tank waste storage capacity
  • Evaluation and development of new tank waste retrieval technologies
  • Maintains timelines for vitrification of low-activity waste by 2025 and high-level waste by 2033

The goal of this Settlement Agreement, resulting from nearly four years of negotiation, is to align the Department of Energy, the Department of Ecology, and the Environmental Protection Agency on a comprehensive strategy for managing and treating Hanford’s tank waste. Public input is crucial in this process. We invite you to participate in public meetings and submit your comments during the comment period. Find out more about the proposed changes, public meeting information and how to provide comments here.

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