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Originally published Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 3:59 PM

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Editorial: Hanford’s porous deadlines

Hold the feds accountable for the promises in a 2010 legal agreement created to ensure no more cleanup deadlines would be missed at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Seattle Times Editorial

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HOW does one make a binding agreement binding? Given the toxic stew of hazards present on the Hanford nuclear reservation, one might assume the threat receives stricter federal oversight.

Washington officials were notified June 6 that two more cleanup deadlines are likely to blow by unmet. This is a tiresome pattern.

The Obama administration insists Hanford cleanup is a high priority. It falls to Ernest Moniz, the new U.S. secretary of energy, to deliver on the good intentions he and others have expressed.

The latest admission is that 2014 deadlines for completion of waste removal from two of Hanford’s single-shell tanks and completion of the Low Activity Waste Facility, described as a key cleanup asset, will not be met.

Almost 70 years ago, Hanford played a vital role in ending World War II. Nuclear waste continued to accumulate for more than four decades of defense production. Epic environmental and public-health issues have taken a back seat to cost overruns and porous deadlines.

One of the first steps in this latest episode is to find out what happened. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to know the reasons for the delays, the nature of the review by the federal Department of Energy and its contractors, the environmental risks of delay and the recovery schedule.

This is an important test for Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee early in their terms, especially after their predecessors’ flinty persistence on this matter. Gov. Chris Gregoire negotiated the first deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 when she was director of the state Department of Ecology.

State officials will have to work with the state’s congressional delegation to point money toward cleanup, because the budgets have been as malleable as the deadlines.

Money cannot be an excuse for missing the agreed-upon goals to clean up Hanford. The environmental hazards and threats to ground water and the Columbia River are too basic.

Invoke the legal muscle of the 2010 consent decree. Hold the feds and contractors accountable. Does a federal judge think the Energy Department has done all it can to keep Hanford cleanup on track?

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