Cantwell Tours Hanford Reachby Staff
Lewiston Tribune, May 28, 2004
RICHLAND -- U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and other officials toured the Hanford Reach by boat Thursday, criticizing efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to reclassify high-level radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation and other nuclear sites.
A U.S. Senate committee earlier this month approved legislation that would allow the Energy Department to reclassify high-level nuclear waste at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. The bill also would allow the department to withhold cleanup funds for Energy Department facilities in Washington and Idaho until they also agree to keep such wastes.
Officials in Washington state have been fighting the move at Hanford, where 177 aging and leaking underground tanks hold about 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production.
Thursday's tour of the Hanford Reach, a 51-mile free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River where salmon return to spawn, was an example of the unified effort by local and state governments and the attorney general "to make sure Hanford is properly cleaned up," said Cantwell, D-Wash.
"It is a symbol of the great cleanup that needs to be done in all these other states," she said. "I really do believe this area of our state has a very bright future, but that future depends on Hanford getting cleaned up."
"I fear there is quite a substantial amount of waste that DOE would try to leave in place and avoid state regulatory oversight" if the legislation passes, said David Mears, senior assistant attorney general. "The discussions we've had to date with the Department of Energy don't give me any hope."
The Energy Department plans to siphon out the highly radioactive liquid waste in the tanks, but claims the residual sludge is too expensive to extract. Instead, the department has proposed reclassifying it as low-level waste, encasing it in a mortar-like grout, then filling the tanks with concrete and leaving them in place.
The department has been pushing members of Congress to change the Nuclear Waste Policy Act since a federal judge in Idaho last year ruled that reclassifying the thousands of gallons of highly radioactive sludge as low-level waste violated the law.
Washington state joined Oregon, Idaho, South Carolina, New Mexico and New York in filing a "friend of the court" brief to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to uphold the Idaho judge's decision.
Energy Department officials have said the legislation would only affect nuclear waste in South Carolina, but they have expressed hope the legislation might spur an agreement with Washington and Idaho.
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