Feds look to ship Wash. radioactive waste to NM

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Any additional waste from Hanford would have to be analyzed to ensure it could be stored at the site because a permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department dictates what kinds of waste and the volumes that can be stored there.

WIPP spokeswoman Deb Gill said the facility does not anticipate any problems with its existing capacity as permitted under law.

Officials estimate that some 7,000 to 40,000 drums of waste would be trucked to New Mexico, depending on how the waste is treated and its final form.

South-central Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation is home to 177 underground tanks, which hold toxic and radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The tanks have long surpassed their intended 20-span.

Federal officials have identified six leaking tanks. Five of them contain transuranic waste and are among the tanks being targeted under the plan.

The Energy Department has said the leaking tanks could be releasing as much as 1,000 gallons a year. State and federal officials have said the leaking materials pose no immediate threat to public safety or the environment, but the leaks raise concerns about the potential for groundwater to be contaminated and, ultimately, reach the neighboring Columbia River about 5 miles away.

Inslee has said repeatedly that Washington state has a “zero tolerance” policy for leaks. He called the proposal a good start in the process of getting rid of Hanford’s waste, and said he would insist that permitting and technical reviews are resolved so that none of the material gets “orphaned” in Washington.

He also said that groundwater treatment programs at Hanford could pump any groundwater that could be contaminated by the leaking waste while awaiting approval of the proposal.

Inslee traveled Wednesday to Hanford to learn more about the leaking waste tanks. His trip came a day after federal officials acknowledged budget cuts may disrupt efforts to empty the aging vessels.

In a letter to Inslee, the Department of Energy estimated it will have to eliminate $92 million for its Office of River Protection, resulting in furloughs for hundreds of workers who work to empty the tanks and build a plant to treat it.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor’s initial concern is for the workers, but he emphasized budget constraints cannot be an excuse to delay response to the leaking tanks.

The U.S. government spends some $2 billion each year on cleanup at Hanford _ one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally _ so the project is still in line to receive most of its usual federal funding.

The cuts within the Energy Department’s budget are the result of debate in Congress, where Republicans and President Barack Obama are fighting over how to curtail the nation’s debt.

Energy Department officials said their budget was being reduced by some $1.9 billion.

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