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Washington governor says state taking legal action over Hanford cleanup deadline dispute

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OLYMPIA, Washington — Gov. Jay Inslee announced late Friday that the state will file a motion in federal court in its ongoing dispute with the U.S Department of Energy over cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation's most polluted nuclear-weapons production site. The Energy Department said it would also seek to amend a court order to clean up the tank waste.

Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said they will ask a federal judge to amend a 2010 agreement with the Energy Department. Under that initial consent decree, the department was given deadlines to build a plant to treat Hanford's most dangerous radioactive wastes and to retrieve wastes contained in single-walled tanks. Since 2011, the Energy Department has repeatedly told the state it cannot meet those deadlines.

In a prepared statement, Inslee wrote that "the simple fact is the Department of Energy has failed to meet important deadlines."

"We need much stronger accountability to ensure our citizens are protected and the Hanford site is cleaned up," Inslee said.

Inslee and Ferguson are asking the court for new requirements for retrieving and treating Hanford's tank waste and constructing new double-shelled tanks.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons, and the wastes are left over from that work. The cleanup costs taxpayers about $2 billion per year.

The Energy Department has said most of the remaining deadlines are at risk of being missed, including having a plant to turn the wastes into glasslike logs fully operational by 2022. Work on the plant has stopped amid technical and safety concerns.

"We are disappointed that the parties could not agree on a reasonable, achievable path forward," the Energy Department said in a statement.

"The department hopes for an expeditious resolution of this matter," the statement said. "In the near term, we will continue to move forward as expeditiously as practicable to begin treating tank waste at Hanford, and will continue to work with the state and key stakeholders to accomplish this important mission."

The highly radioactive wastes are left over from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Hanford is located near Richland in south-central Washington.

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