SPOKANE — An agreement has been reached to clean up a radioactive basin on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site, two federal agencies said Tuesday.
The deal regarding the K West Basin was reached between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, which owns Hanford.
The settlement stems from the Energy Department’s failure to meet a September 2014 deadline to begin removing nuclear sludge from the basin, which is located along the Columbia River.
Under the deal, the new deadline for starting the removal of sludge is Sept. 30, 2018. The work must be completed by Dec. 31, 2019.
Hanford, which is near Richland, for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons. It now is involved in a decades-long, multibillion dollar process of cleaning up radioactive waste left by that work.
As part of the agreement, the Energy Department agreed to pay a penalty of $125,000 for missing the September 2014 deadline to start removing sludge.
“We’re glad we’ve reached an agreement so we can get back to focusing on cleanup and protecting the Columbia River,” said Rick Albright, director of EPA’s Superfund cleanup program in Seattle. “The K Basins should be one of the Department of Energy’s highest cleanup priorities.”
The Energy Department said the settlement “reflects the agencies’ commitment to moving radioactive sludge away from the Columbia River to reduce the risk to the river in the next few years.” The agency in the past blamed a lack of funding from Congress for the delay.
Under the settlement, 10 other milestones affected by the delay in the start of sludge removal will be extended, with all work to be completed by 2024.
The 100 K Area is one of six areas where plutonium production reactors operated during the Cold War. Water-filled basins stored spent uranium fuel removed from the reactor cores.
All the spent fuel was removed from the basins a decade ago. But radioactive sludge, a result of corrosion of spent fuel, has been consolidated in underwater storage containers in the K West Basin. There are about 35 cubic yards of sludge that must be removed.
The sludge will be moved from the K West Basin to transport containers that will take it to Hanford’s Central Plateau for storage at a facility called T Plant, which is farther away from the Columbia River. The sludge will be stored at T Plant until it is treated and disposed of off the Hanford Site, the Energy Department said.