The Energy Department has proposed a 17-year delay in building a complex waste treatment plant at its radioactively contaminated Hanford site in Washington state, pushing back the full start-up for processing nuclear bomb waste to 2039.
The department submitted the 29-page plan in federal court as part of a suit to amend an agreement with the state that requires the plant to start operating in 2022.
A series of serious technical questions about the plant’s design have caused one delay after another. Two of the major facilities at the cleanup site, which resembles a small industrial city, are under a construction halt ordered in 2013 by then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
The plant, located on a desert plateau above the Columbia River, is designed to transform 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge, currently stored in underground tanks, into solid glass that could theoretically be stored for thousands of years.
The waste was a byproduct of plutonium production, which started with the Manhattan Project during World War II.
The 586-square-mile Hanford site is widely considered the most contaminated place in the country, requiring 8,000 workers to remediate half a century of careless industrial practices that were done under strict federal secrecy.