A federal court ordered the U.S. Department of Energy Friday to step up its solutions and timeline to clean up tank waste at Hanford in southeast Washington.

Washington state wants the feds to empty 177 underground tanks full of radioactive sludge. The sludge is left over from the manufacture of plutonium for World War II and during the Cold War.

State watchdogs haven’t been happy with the pace of that cleanup by the federal government since before 2008. After 2008, the state and the feds reached a new court-drawn agreement. It included a fresh cleanup schedule that DOE helped create and said it could meet. Then the feds started missing those new deadlines and Washington state sued again in 2014. Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson of the Eastern Washington U.S. District Court wrote in Friday’s order:

  • DOE hasn’t been transparent. Managers there haven’t been up-front about its tank farm cleanup or technical problems with a massive factory called the Waste Treatment Plant that’s still under construction.
  • DOE managers have to get the first part of that plant up and treating waste by 2022. Peterson wrote there aren’t going to be federally-requested open timelines here.
  • Washington State is now granted expedited hearings. The state can get in court quickly should state managers claim the feds aren’t being forthcoming from this point on.

This all matters because more than 50 million gallons of radioactive sludge is sitting in World War II and Cold War era steel and concrete tanks near the Columbia River.

A federal spokesperson says DOE reviewing the judge’s order.