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Originally published Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 3:00 PM

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Editorial: Keep Hanford nuclear cleanup a priority

Hanford leaks, budget cuts and cleanup strategies grabbed Gov. Jay Inslee early in his administration. That is a good thing.

Seattle Times Editorial

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LEAKING tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation were back in the news, but not a whole lot changed about the status of the very long-term cleanup project.

One has to strain to find any positive news in reports of more leaks of radioactive waste from aged tanks and the Department of Energy’s announcement of budget cuts.

The net effect was to get Gov. Jay Inslee into Hanford mode two months into his administration. He was acknowledging more leaks as consequences of federal budget sequestration were revealed: $92 million in cuts and furloughs and layoffs of about 2,800 contract workers.

An attempt was made to take the sharp edges off those headlines with an announcement that federal officials were looking at shipping 3 million gallons of radioactive waste to New Mexico.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, N.M., is designed to store waste of a specifically designated radioactive classification, prepared to WIPP specifications.

News accounts out of New Mexico indicate no one is the least bit excited about taking more Hanford waste beyond the 25,000 barrels sent over a decade.

Hanford’s reality is that Inslee must deal with 56 million gallons of highly toxic and radioactive waste in 177 underground storage tanks that date to the 1940s, accumulated over five decades of nuclear defense production. Hanford sits five miles from the Columbia River, and some level of contamination is predicted.

The Waste Treatment Plant under construction will eventually turn the nastiest waste into glass logs for storage. The starting date is a moving target, now written in pencil for 2022. The plant is forecast to treat 10,000 gallons of waste a day.

Combine the raw technical challenges, the odd contractor scandal, the vagaries of federal budgeting, and the continual tensions about who gets stuck with what waste, and cleanup needs persistent attention.

Inslee must stay on top of Hanford cleanup. His choice of Maia Bellon to lead the Department of Ecology puts a veteran of Hanford legal and tank-storage issues in a key position.

Keep Hanford cleanup a priority, not just a photo opportunity.

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