New concerns about Northwest nuclear waste plant

By SHANNON DININNY | December 11, 2011 | 11:05 AM EST

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — The federal government says a unique plant that will convert radioactive waste into a stable substance that resembles glass will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more and may take longer to build, adding to a string of delays and a skyrocketing price tag.

In addition, several workers at southeast Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation have raised concerns about the safety of the plant's design — and complained they've been retaliated against for whistleblowing.

The turmoil has some in the Pacific Northwest uneasy about the plant's long-term viability and fearful that a frustrated Congress could balk at paying more money for the cornerstone of cleanup at the highly contaminated site.

Roughly one-third of the federal government's entire budget for nuclear cleanup — about $2 billion each year — goes to Hanford.