Washington State Sues Bush Administration
by David Ammons, Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state sued the federal government Tuesday to halt the shipment of radioactive waste to the Hanford nuclear reservation until the Energy Department commits itself to cleaning up and removing 78,000 barrels of waste already stored there.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Spokane. The state seeks a permanent injunction against new shipments until enforceable benchmarks for the cleanup are in place.
The state and federal governments have been negotiating for months. In December, the department informally agreed that nuclear waste now stored at Hanford would be dug up, repackaged, and eventually shipped to a plant in New Mexico.
But Gov. Gary Locke and state Attorney General Christine Gregoire said the government inexplicably walked away from that agreement, leaving the state with only flimsy promises. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure that a timeline is developed for Hanford, a cleanup plan is put in place, and the Department of Energy follows through on it," the governor said. He added, "Our state's environmental health is at stake. New promises won't make things right."
Jessie Roberson, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for environmental management, said the agency will honor its commitments but also has clear authority over the shipments. "The issue isn't whether we're going to get the work done. It's whether we need the state to force us to do the work," Roberson said.
The disagreement is over waste such as protective clothing, tools, and pipes that have been contaminated with plutonium in the process of making nuclear weapons. The material is stored in 55-gallon drums, many of them buried in unlined trenches. Gregoire said the state has accepted about 40 barrels of waste from Ohio and California since December, and a shipment of 10 barrels is en route from Ohio.
The 560-square-mile Hanford reservation produced material for nuclear weapons during World War II and during the Cold War. Hanford was left with more radioactive waste than any other site in the nation.
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