Treatment may begin on low-activity Hanford waste

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KENNEWICK — The federal government is recommending a phased start to treatment of radioactive waste now held in underground tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington.

The U.S. Department of Energy, in a report released Tuesday, proposes starting to treat some of Hanford's 56 million gallons of waste for disposal as soon as possible, while work continues to resolve technical issues at the vitrification plant's Pretreatment and High Level Waste Facilities.

Treatment would include sending some low-activity radioactive waste directly to the plant's Low Activity Waste Facility to be prepared for disposal, bypassing the Pretreatment Facility, which was planned to separate tank waste into low-activity and high-level streams for separate treatment.

The treated low-activity waste then would go to a Hanford landfill.

The department also suggests retrieving up to 1.4 million gallons of waste, from up to 11 underground single-shell tanks, that may be transuranic waste, which is typically contaminated with plutonium. The waste then would go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

In June, the federal government notified state officials that it is at serious risk of missing two cleanup deadlines at Hanford, the nation's most contaminated nuclear site. Gov. Jay Inslee has said the state would work to meet federal cleanup commitments.