Hanford radioactive sludge gets weekly EPA fine

Original sludge removal date was 2002

A sign warns visitors of soil contaminated by radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear site near Richland, Wash. (KOIN)
A sign warns visitors of soil contaminated by radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear site near Richland, Wash. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Two hundred miles east of Portland, next to one of the world’s largest salmon runs, is one of the biggest environmental clean-ups on Earth.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation produced plutonium for atomic bombs in World War II. The projected price tag to clean it up is $100 billion — and counting.

Workers wearing protective suits bury contaminated debris in a landfill on the Hanford nuclear reservation Thursday, April 3, 2008 near Richland, Wash. (AP)
Workers wearing protective suits bury contaminated debris in a landfill on the Hanford nuclear reservation Thursday, April 3, 2008 near Richland, Wash. (AP)

The Environmental Protection Agency is fining the Department of Energy — which operates Hanford — $10,000 each week. In a letter announcing the fines, the EPA said, “The original 2002 date by which sludge removal was to be completed has been extended 13 years,” and the Department of Energy has had “ample time to fund and commence sludge removal.”

Geoff Tyree with the Department of Energy said they are committed to getting the radioactive sludge out.

“The Department of Energy is committed to safely storing the sludge and ultimately removing the radioactive sludge from our facility near the Columbia River here at Hanford,” Tyree told KOIN 6 News.

Asked if there is any timetable for that, Tyree said that information is in the letter from the EPA.

But the letter obtained by KOIN 6 News essentially said there is no timetable.

The Department of Energy said it is “currently not in a position to responsibly propose a new date,” that “the due date should be changed to ‘to be determined,'” and blames the delay on “congressional funding levels.”

The Columbia River near the Hanford nuclear site, Richland, Wash. (KOIN)
The Columbia River near the Hanford nuclear site, Richland, Wash. (KOIN)

Dan Serres with the Columbia Riverkeepers said, “Essentially, the DOE is making an excuse.”

The sludge is stored in a facility near the river called the K-Basin.

“It’s percolating towards and into the river right now,” Serres said. “When you have radioactive sludge this close to critical salmon habitat, it has to be dealt with and it has to be dealt with fast.”

The Department of Energy said Hanford’s radioactive sludge will be cleaned up. It’s just a matter of when.

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