Government Watchdog Highlights Challenges to Completing Hanford Treatment Plant, Democratic Committee Leaders Pledge Continued Oversight

Jan 18, 2013

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report examining the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), currently under construction at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State.  The project has been plagued with chronic delays and significant cost overruns, raising questions about the Department of Energy’s management and oversight of one of the world’s largest nuclear waste cleanup projects.  In response to these concerns, Democratic leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee requested GAO review the plant’s progress and identify obstacles preventing the project’s completion.

GAO’s report comprehensively outlines DOE’s long-standing management and technical challenges to completing the project.  The report expresses serious concerns about the ultimate cost and final completion date of the plant and also questions whether the plant can successfully accomplish its waste treatment mission, given that several critical technologies have not been tested and verified.

“Cleaning up waste from Cold War nuclear weapons production is a significant environmental challenge,” said Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA). “DOE has suggested that Hanford's waste treatment plant is vital in addressing our nuclear weapons legacy. This report raises serious questions about the design and construction of this plant. We are working to understand what DOE intends to do to address these concerns.”

“Based on this report, I have deep concerns about serious challenges facing one of the largest nuclear waste cleanup projects in the world,” said Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette.  “With significant delays, costs that have tripled, and technical challenges to facilities design, it is clear that the Hanford WTP has not demonstrated they are meeting safety requirements. The report reveals deficiencies in DOE’s management, and our committee not only encourages DOE to take GAO’s recommendations seriously, we will continue to make oversight of this project a priority until these issues are resolved.”

“The Department of Energy’s recent announcement that it may ramp up construction at Hanford flies in the face of the reasoned recommendations to suspend it that are made in this report and by the project’s own top staff,” said Rep. Markey.  “From hydrogen explosions to dangerous nuclear chain reactions, the potential consequences of continuing with these misguided plans prematurely could be devastating to the project, the workers, the environment, and maybe even the public.”

The GAO report is available online here.