Washington state officials made the right call in giving the Department of Energy more time to empty radioactive waste from a Hanford tank.
Nobody likes missed deadlines at Hanford, especially from DOE which misses so many. But in this case we are grateful state leaders decided to give DOE more time to do the job right.
DOE was supposed to start emptying the waste from Tank AY-102 on Sept. 1, but that didn’t happen.
Part of the problem is it was determined that removing the liquid waste would cause other safety issues, and it’s not worth the risk until the entire operation can be done properly.
DOE and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, could have started to retrieve the liquid waste in the tank, but hazardous sludge on the bottom is causing concern.
As of this spring, the tank had 235 inches of liquid waste sitting above 55 inches of sludge. The liquid helps keep the sludge cool. Those involved in the process said removing the liquid waste too soon before removing the sludge might cause the sludge to heat up and create flammable gasses that could corrode the tank.
That would be a disaster.
Safety is more important than forcing a deadline, and it’s good state officials came to that conclusion.
Now DOE will be allowed time to handle both the sludge and the liquid, and is working on getting the infrastructure in place for that task.
The down side is the new deadline to finish pumping all the waste from the tank has now been pushed into 2017, which seems extensive.
But making sure the waste is removed safely matters more than making sure it is removed quickly, especially since the outer shell of the tank is doing its job and containing the waste that is leaking from the inner shell.
DOE has delayed so many goals, there was no certainty the state would be willing to extend this particular task.
Officials with the state and DOE have been unable to reach an agreement on other key cleanup issues and so they likely will go to court.
Once lawyers are involved, there is no telling how long cleanup may be stalled.
They managed to see reason and work things out regarding Tank AY-102. It is a shame they can’t do the same on other cleanup deadline issues.