The Energy Department has said the leaking tanks could be releasing as much as 1,000 gallons a year. State and federal officials have said the leaking materials pose no immediate threat to public safety or the environment, but the leaks raise concerns about the potential for groundwater to be contaminated and, ultimately, reach the neighboring Columbia River about 5 miles away.
Inslee has said repeatedly that Washington state has a "zero tolerance" policy for leaks. He called the proposal a good start in the process of getting rid of Hanford's waste, and said he would insist that permitting and technical reviews are resolved so that none of the material gets "orphaned" in Washington.
He also said that groundwater treatment programs at Hanford could pump any groundwater that could be contaminated by the leaking waste while awaiting approval of the proposal.
Inslee traveled Wednesday to Hanford to learn more about the leaking waste tanks. His trip came a day after federal officials acknowledged budget cuts may disrupt efforts to empty the aging vessels.
In a letter to Inslee, the Department of Energy estimated it will have to eliminate $92 million for its Office of River Protection, resulting in furloughs for hundreds of workers who work to empty the tanks and build a plant to treat it.
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor's initial concern is for the workers, but he emphasized budget constraints cannot be an excuse to delay response to the leaking tanks.
The U.S. government spends some $2 billion each year on cleanup at Hanford — one-third of its entire budget for nuclear cleanup nationally — so the project is still in line to receive most of its usual federal funding.
The cuts within the Energy Department's budget are the result of debate in Congress, where Republicans and President Barack Obama are fighting over how to curtail the nation's debt.
Energy Department officials said their budget was being reduced by some $1.9 billion.
Associated Press writers Mike Baker in Olympia and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque contributed to this report.
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