May 1, 2004
Lawmakers urge agency to delay nuke waste plans
Members of Congress want all the issues addressed regarding the Hanford disposal.
The Associated Press
YAKIMA, Wash. — Several Northwest members of Congress urged the federal Energy Department by letter Thursday to forgo plans to ship waste to the Hanford nuclear reservation until their concerns are addressed.
The letter, signed by nine Democrats, comes as the Energy Department prepares to release its record of decision for handling solid waste at the central Washington site.
"In light of the magnitude of the potential threat posed by the planned shipments, we request your personal involvement in ensuring that the current plan of increasing shipments of wastes is not implemented until existing concerns with transport, storage, disposal and clean-up practices at the site are addressed," the letter said.
Signing the letter were Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and David Wu, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden.
Washington Reps. Jay Inslee, Brian Baird, Adam Smith, Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott also signed the letter.
An Energy Department spokeswoman did not return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.
The equivalent of about 75,000 55-gallon barrels of radioactive waste are buried at Hanford. The material can take thousands of years to decay to safe levels. The state and federal governments agreed recently on a long-term schedule for cleaning the waste.
In the meantime, the federal government started shipping radioactive and hazardous waste from other sites to Hanford for packaging before sending the materials to a New Mexico site for disposal. Hanford currently accepts and disposes of lower-level waste from other nuclear plants throughout the country.
The state, American Indian tribes and environmental groups have raised concerns that highly radioactive and hazardous waste will be shipped from other states and buried at Hanford.
The state has a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court, contending that the Energy Department failed to adequately study the effects of trucking in the waste from other states and failed to involve the public in making that decision.
A judge has temporarily banned out-of-state shipments of waste to Hanford until the case is resolved.
An initiative that will appear on the November ballot in Washington would halt nuclear waste shipments from other states to Hanford until existing waste at the site is cleaned.
It would do so by preventing the state from approving permits for new waste facilities.
The measure has been endorsed by environmental groups, the state Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters.
Critics question the constitutionality of the measure and argue such a policy could make it difficult to ship Hanford's existing wastes to other states, such as Nevada and New Mexico, for proper burial.