This editorial was originally published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:
The cleanup at Hanford of 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste stored in underground tanks — many of which are leaking — must go on.
Wisely, the U.S. Department of Energy took action that ensures work will continue without disruption. The DOE opted to extend two of the major environmental cleanup contracts for up to a year, rather than putting new contracts into place before they expire this fall.
The Tri-City Herald reports that the extensions mean cleanup work being done by about 5,000 workers will continue uninterrupted. If new contracts were signed now, the current contractors would have to slow work during a transition period if a new contractor was coming onboard.
Given these are multibillion dollar contracts, the scale of the projects are enormous. Slow downs — or sharp U-turns — can cost taxpayers millions.
“Evaluations of proposals for follow-on contracts, the Tank Closure Contract and the Central Plateau Cleanup Contract, continue in earnest,” according to a DOE memo sent to Hanford employees Tuesday. “Extension of the current contracts would only be in force as long as needed after award of new contracts and transition periods to the new contractors.”
New contractors typically hire the majority of the former contractors’ workers, the Herald reported.
That reality also makes this move a wise one. A shuffling of paperwork should not slow down a project that’s already been delayed far too long.
The cleanup is critically important to the nation, the region and the state. The fact that Walla Walla is 66 miles away from the nuclear reservation weighs on the minds of many in this area — and for good reason. It has been reported, for example, that 67 of the tanks filled with radioactive waste have confirmed leaks, and they are buried relatively close to the Columbia River.
Cleaning up this radioactive nuclear waste is a federal responsibility. The U.S. government established the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the 1940s for national defense purposes.
Just a little less than year ago, the federal government increased spending on the cleanup project, which is running at least 25 years behind schedule. The final spending legislation signed by President Donald Trump increased the Hanford budget to $2.4 billion, a $15 million increase above the previous spending level.
It was progress, just like this week’s decision to extend the contracts to keep the cleanup effort going in the proper direction.