Energy & Environment

US agrees to improve safety conditions at polluted nuclear facility

The U.S. government will implement a system for dispersing dangerous vapors at a polluted nuclear site in Washington state in response to a lawsuit on behalf of cleanup workers who were sickened by the vapors.

The Associated Press reports that the federal government reached a settlement Wednesday with Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office. Ferguson told reporters that the settlement was a major victory on behalf of the workers tasked with cleaning up nuclear waste at the site.

"This is a major victory for the brave men and women working to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation," Ferguson said in a news release.

"This is an historic outcome, but let's be honest - it should not have required a lawsuit to get the federal government to do the right thing," he added.

Under the settlement agreement reported by the AP, the Department of Energy will pay nearly a million dollars in legal fees to the state and Hanford Challenge, a watchdog group monitoring the site's cleanup.

The agency will also test and implement a new vapor monitoring and alarm system, including technology Ferguson called "game-changing" to protect workers from exposure, according to the AP.

In a statement to the news service, the Energy Department says it continues to "take a very conservative approach to protecting workers from potential exposures to chemical vapors."

The federal government is overseeing a cleanup effort at the Hanford nuclear site in eastern Washington state, which once produced 70 percent of the U.S.'s plutonium supply. Work to disperse dangerous material still housed at the site could take decades, according to experts.

A local union group involved in the lawsuit, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 598, also celebrated the news in a statement provided in the news release.

"This represents Local 598's values and commitment to its members and all working families that ensure the success of our National mission," said the union's business manager Randall Walli.

"While the future of Hanford will continue to demand our full diligence, with all its complexities and challenges, this settlement represents a positive step in the right direction," he added.

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