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Governor Booth Gardner announces the Tri-Party Agreement to clean up toxic waste at the Hanford Reservation on February 27, 1989.
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On February 27, 1989, Washington Governor Booth Gardner (1936-2013) announces the Tri-Party Agreement between the state and two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, on a framework for cleaning up radioactive and toxic waste at the Hanford Reservation near Richland. The site, which has been used for production of plutonium since the 1940s, is heavily contaminated. The original Tri-Party Agreement projects completion in 30 years, but by 2012 the Department of Energy will estimate that the work will not be completed until 2065, and at much higher cost than originally estimated.
A Historic Agreement
The 1989 Tri-Party Agreement established a 30-year timetable for the cleanup and a framework for determining the work required. Governor Gardner called it "historic" and "probably the best
of any in the country" (Schneider). But it was controversial for several
Some sectors were put off by the very idea of devoting
federal funds to the cleanup. W. Henson Moore (b. 1939), deputy secretary of energy at the time, recalled in 2009, "It was a culture change and we were pounded by people within
the Defense Department. We were pounded by people within the Department of
Energy. We were pounded by contractors, who were essentially resisting this
change from production to cleanup. ... We were being pushed on all fronts.
Because quite frankly, a culture had been developed in building the nuclear
weapons for the nation’s defense. And that came first. It came first before
everything else. The environment wasn’t even a consideration. Health and safety
was less of a consideration. The consideration was succeed at all cost. The nation’s
defense depended upon it" (Oregon, p. vi).
The agreement drew criticism from those who felt it didn't go far enough. Critics noted that the Tri-Party Agreement did not even estimate expected costs, though it did call for the federal government to
spend $560 million annually over the next five years.
On January 4, the Department of Energy had
released a report that estimated that cleanup and maintenance costs at Hanford
could reach $45 billion. That report drew criticism from Senator John Glenn (b. 1921), D-Ohio, who said the department had a
history of underestimating costs (Shenon).
Critics also note that the scope of the work to be done was not well understood and that, accordingly, costs could mushroom. "At
the time the Tri-Party Agreement was initially negotiated, the toughest
negotiations were over what could be done and would be done about the tank
wastes. The uncertainties about what was in the tanks, how to sample them to
better understand their contents, and how to develop feasible processes to
remove and treat the wastes were enormous," Randy Smith, former Tri-Party Agreement
negotiator for EPA, recalled in 2009. "The initial Tri-Party Agreement
was quite sketchy about the details of what ought to be done" (Oregon, p.
Others criticized the agreement as not being easily enforceable. Environmentalists and state officials had
argued that the agreement should be in the form of a consent decree that could
be enforced by the courts. ''We wanted a consent decree because if there is a
problem it's easier to solve,'' Jay Manning, a Washington assistant
attorney general and its principal negotiator, tells a reporter on the day of
the agreement announcement. "'The
Energy Department basically said if we want a consent decree, we might get one
ultimately. But it was going take a war before we won'' (Schneider).
Challenges and Problems
fact, the effort to clean up Hanford faced ongoing challenges and, by 2014, was still far from complete.
study commissioned by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Commission in
1995 found that most of the $7.5 billion spent by that time had had little
impact. "Hanford is floundering in
a legal and regulatory morass," the study says. "For its part, DOE
has been less and less able to prevent the large number of state and federal
agencies and `stakeholder' groups with an interest in the site from laying claim
to significant portions of the Hanford budget ... ." (Nelson).
2008, Washington filed suit against the federal government to
force cleanup action. In 2010, a U.S.
District Court approved a new cleanup schedule that did not project completion
of the project until 2052. In
2012, the Department of Energy estimated the cost or remaining cleanup work
at Hanford -- at the time projected to be finished in 2065 -- at $112 billion.
my younger, naïve days I dreamed that Hanford cleanup would be two-thirds done
by 2009," Bill Dixon, former
administrator of nuclear safety and energy facilities for the Oregon Department
of Energy, recalled in 2009. "The
Columbia River shore would be clean, most of the plutonium-contaminated waste
would have been disposed, and tank waste treatment would have been ongoing for
over 10 years. Now older and wiser, I look back on 20 years of struggles and
feel proud of the progress that has been made and optimistic that our nation
will complete this vital cleanup mission ... . When Hanford cleanup is done is less
important than it is done” (Oregon, p. xi).
Keith Schneider, "Agreement
Set For a Cleanup At Nuclear Site," The
New York Times, February 28, 1989, accessed January 4, 2014 (www.nytimes.com); Hanford Cleanup: The First 20
Years (Salem, Oregon: Oregon Department of Energy, July 2009) available online at (www.oregon.gov/energy/NUCSAF/docs/HanfordFirst20years.pdf);
Philip Shenon, "Atomic
Cleanup Is Seen Costing U.S. $92 Billion, The New York Times, January 5, 1989, accessed
January 3, 2014, (www.nytimes.com); Robert T. Nelson, "Study Urges big
Cuts at Hanford," The Seattle Times, March 14, 1995, accessed January 3,
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