Expedite Hanford cleanup with new science-driven approach

As the state legislators representing Washington's 8th Legislative District, which includes the federal government's sprawling Hanford Site, we have every reason to want the cleanup of Hanford to be successful.

It's been more than 30 years since Hanford's mission officially shifted from the defense nuclear production that helped the United States win World War II and the Cold War to dealing with the massive volume of nuclear waste left from plutonium production. Today, more than 8,000 Hanford workers are involved in the cleanup effort. It is a tremendous undertaking, requiring the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to spend billions of dollars every year.

The most costly and technically challenging part of Hanford's environmental remediation is the retrieval, treatment and long-term storage of approximately 56 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in 177 underground tanks. A January 2019 DOE report estimated that the tank waste treatment mission alone could cost $548 billion and may not be completed until the year 2078.

We firmly believe it is the federal government's responsibility to clean up the Hanford Site, in the most cost-efficient, but effective way. At the same time, based on the history of federal funding for cleanup, we simply don't believe Congress will appropriate an average of more than $9 billion in each of the next 58 years (and again, that's just for the underground waste storage tanks).

It is with this perspective that we strongly encourage DOE and its two regulators, the state Department of Ecology and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, to actively explore new, innovative ways to expedite cleanup and reduce costs while continuing to protect public health and the environment.

One promising idea is to manage and treat nuclear waste based on its physical characteristics, rather than its origin. This science-driven approach would stop managing all defense waste as though it emits high levels of radioactivity — even when it does not.

At Hanford, such an approach could significantly reduce costs and shorten cleanup timelines. Importantly, it could also provide a pathway for waste to be disposed of out-of-state instead of being stored here in the 8th District indefinitely.

While some oppose making this change, the reality is that the status quo is unacceptable.

DOE has already successfully implemented this new approach at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, resulting in the permanent disposal of a small quantity of material at a commercial facility outside of the state. We strongly encourage a similar effort at Hanford.

We are proud of the contribution the Hanford Site and the Tri-City community have made to our nation over many decades. Looking ahead, we join the local elected officials, Hanford advocates and other 8th District voices calling on those responsible to embrace these new and innovative solutions, toward the successful completion of the site's mission.

As published in the Tri-City Herald

State Representative Matt Boehnke, 8th Legislative District
122B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(509) 315-2315 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000