State opposes move to downplay dangers of Hanford tank waste

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Federal plan would not protect Columbia River from nuclear dregs

RICHLAND – A new plan to reclassify nuclear waste would allow the federal government to walk away from its obligation to clean up millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste at Hanford, Washington state officials said this week.

The state filed comments late yesterday with the U.S. Department of Energy opposing a plan to “reinterpret” the classification of 56 million gallons of waste stored in underground tanks on the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington. The comments were accompanied by a letter from Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“This is an attempt by the federal government to grant themselves the unilateral authority to leave high level, radioactive waste in the ground at Hanford. This dangerous idea will only serve to silence the voices of tribal leaders, Hanford workers, public safety officials, and surrounding communities in these important conversations,” Inslee said. “This is unacceptable, and we will not stand by while this administration plans to abandon its responsibility to clean up their mess.”

Hanford’s underground tank waste is the deadly legacy of a half-century of plutonium production for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Hanford tanks hold 60 percent of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

Currently, all of that waste is classified as high-level. Plans for its treatment and disposal have been developed to isolate it from the environment until it is no longer dangerous. The federal Energy department seeks to reclassify a potentially large percentage of the waste as lower level waste. That would allow treatment and disposal options that would not guarantee long-term protection for local communities, groundwater and the Columbia River.

Ferguson said his office will follow this issue closely.

"Washington will not tolerate shortcuts in the federal government's cleanup of Hanford,” Ferguson said. “Unilaterally re-classifying high-level waste based on criteria not found in statute, and without consultation with other regulators and states, is dangerous and wrong. My office will ensure the federal government honors its cleanup obligations.”

Maia Bellon, director of the State Department of Ecology, called the move "unacceptable."

“Washington has done its part to support national security,” Bellon said. “In return, we have been repeatedly assured that Hanford will be cleaned up to a standard that protects our health and environment, and that tank waste will be incorporated into glass for long-term stability. There is only one reason to reclassify Hanford’s high-level waste, and that is to clear the way for cheaper, less protective waste treatment. That is just not acceptable."

The Energy department is accepting comments on its proposal through Jan. 9. To add your voice to this process, send an email to:

Media Contacts

Tara Lee
Governor Inslee’s Communications Office