RICHLAND — The state of Washington has issued a $1 million fine to the Hanford federal nuclear weapons production site for restricting access to critical data.
The Washington Department of Ecology issued the fine on Monday to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and the site is now engaged in cleaning up some of the most radioactive places in the world.
Under a 1989 agreement that governs the cleanup, the federal government is required to provide the state with access to data it compiles, including details on the extent of contamination in soil and groundwater, how hazardous waste is managed, the status of underground storage tanks and progress made in cleaning up contamination.
But the state says it is not getting the information it needs to make good regulatory decisions, and three years of negotiations have been fruitless.
“Without access to this data, we can’t effectively protect the land, air and water for residents in Eastern Washington and surrounding communities,” stated Polly Zehm, acting director of Ecology. “We’ve attempted to negotiate this issue with the U.S. Department of Energy for years, only to find our access to information restricted even further.”
The Department of Energy is expected to appeal the fine.
The federal government spends about $2.5 billion a year to clean up the Hanford site, which is located near Richland and was created by the Manhattan Project during World War II.
“An agreement toward data access should have happened years ago,” Zehm said. We’ve negotiated for three years in good faith and granted a series of deadline extensions. We reached agreement in principle with Energy several times, but in the end, Energy chose to simply declare that it had met its obligations and walked away from the table.”