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Regulators Discuss New Plans For Nuclear Waste At Hanford

caption: <p>File photo of Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant where Tuesday's emergency unfolded at the Hanford Site north of Richland, Washington.</p>
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File photo of Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant where Tuesday's emergency unfolded at the Hanford Site north of Richland, Washington.

Federal and state energy regulators will hold back-to-back meetings in Portland on Tuesday for a proposal to reclassify some of the high-level nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Washington.

The proposal has major implications for the nuclear waste that remains in Hanford's storage tanks.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Energy has been working to retrieve the nuclear waste left in storage tanks, and in one area known as C-Farm, they’ve removed as much as they can get.

“But there is some amount they were not able to get," said Jeff Burright, nuclear waste remediation specialist with the Oregon Department of Energy. "And that equates to approximately 70,000 gallons of waste.”

The Energy Department wants to downgrade that remainder to "low-level radioactive waste," so they can leave it in place and fill the tanks with grout. The area would then be sealed off to prevent the waste from migrating.

It's the first step in a long closure process for about 10 percent of the storage tanks on the site. But the Oregon Department of Energy has raised concerns that federal officials are moving too quickly. The state has filed public comments asking federal officials to do additional reviews before making any decisions.

"The movement of waste through the Hanford environment is a very complex process that we’re still trying to fully understand," Burright said. "Despite their best efforts, there are still uncertainties over very long time scales that could represent future risk."

Burright said closing the tanks could prevent the future removal of the 70,000 gallons of remaining waste should new technologies emerge. Plus, he said, there may be additional risks stemming from the million gallons of waste that have already leaked or spilled into the ground underneath the tanks on the site. 

The Oregon Department of Energy is holding its own informational meeting on the issue at 6:30 p.m. after the U.S. Department of Energy’s informational meeting from 3-5 p.m. in Portland on Tuesday. Both meetings will be held at the same location, the Eliot Center at the First Unitarian Church, 1226 SW Salmon St. [Copyright 2018 EarthFix]

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