Hanford Sparks Lawsuitby Staff
Lewiston Tribune, July 8, 2004
YAKIMA -- The states of Washington and Oregon plan to sue the U.S. Department of Energy, demanding the agency begin assessing what harm 40 years of plutonium production has caused to natural resources at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
A letter notifying the Energy Department of the two states' intent to sue will be filed today, said Elliott Furst, senior counsel for the Washington state attorney general's office.
"We're not asking for money for damages. It's very focused, asking that the court order the Department of Energy to start studying what injuries there will be to natural resources," he said.
Kevin Neely, a spokesman for Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, declined to comment until after the letter has been filed, but said the state has been discouraged by the federal government's position and is prepared to take action.
The Energy Department cannot respond until after the letter has been received, said spokeswoman Colleen Clark.
The two states, as well as the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, had asked to be allowed to join mediation talks between the Energy Department and the Yakama Nation. The Yakamas filed suit against the federal agency in 2002, seeking restoration of Hanford natural resources that may have been damaged by plutonium production for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.
The tribes allege that contamination of the Columbia River with radioactive waste and other hazardous substances had contributed to declining Northwest salmon populations in the past 50 years.
A court ordered the Yakama Nation and the Justice Department, which represents the Energy Department, into mediation talks earlier this year.
The Energy Department declined to allow any new parties to join mediation.
Washington and Oregon officials had hoped that by joining the mediation talks, they could begin pushing for an assessment of harm done to natural resources at the site, Furst said.
The Energy Department has said it is too soon to determine if there were injuries to the environment or whether reparations should be paid.
Hanford, located near Richland in south central Washington, was created as part of the Manhattan Project in World War II to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The 586-square-mile site now contains the nation's largest collection of nuclear waste.
Cleanup costs are projected at between $50 billion and $60 billion, with cleanup to be completed by 2035.
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