U.S. Will Keep Four Kinds of Radioactive Waste Out of Hanford
RICHLAND, Washington, January 10, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy will not import four categories of radioactive and hazardous waste to the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington state, at least until it completes another environmental review, under a settlement just reached with the state of Washington.
The Energy Department will not ship low-level waste, mixed low-level waste, transuranic waste, and mixed transuranic waste to Hanford until an environmental statement is completed.
"Although I'm disappointed we had to file a lawsuit to get this result, this is a great outcome for a long and contentious case," said state Attorney General Rob McKenna. "Had we not filed this suit, the Department of Energy would have gone ahead and disposed of radioactive and hazardous waste based on an environmental analysis that all sides now agree is not trustworthy."
The Hanford Site covers 586 square miles in Benton County, and borders the Columbia River. Hanford operated for nearly 50 years producing plutonium for national defense programs. In the late 1980s, emphasis switched to environmental cleanup and restoration of the site.
In 2003, the state of Washington filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by the Department of Energy (DOE) to bring transuranic and mixed transuranic waste to Hanford for interim storage.
Based on the state's motion, the U.S. District Count for the Eastern District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the DOE from making further shipments.
In 2004, the state amended its complaint to also challenge the delivery of low-level and mixed low-level waste to Hanford for permanent disposal. The state argued that Energy's existing environmental impact statement was inadequate, and groundwater modeling in the document unreliable for making waste management decisions at Hanford.
The federal court issued another injunction against shipments of these waste types to allow the state a chance to gather additional information about the DOE environmental impact statement.
In responding to the state's request for information, DOE discovered discrepancies in its environmental impact statement. This led the parties to begin settlement discussions.
Under the settlement announced Monday, the DOE will not rely on its current solid waste environmental impact statement to make decisions regarding disposal of the waste identified in the lawsuits.
Instead, the DOE will develop an environmental impact statement containing a comprehensive groundwater analysis that examines both the closure of Hanford's single-shell radioactive waste tanks and the management of other wastes at Hanford, including the disposal of low-level radioactive and mixed hazardous wastes.
Under the agreement, the state Department of Ecology will cooperate with DOE in developing the new environmental impact statement.
"This settlement agreement ensures that the state will have meaningful input into developing the EIS, which will enhance our ability to protect Hanford groundwater and make better waste-management decisions," said Ecology Director Jay Manning.
"I'm very pleased the Department of Energy has agreed to re-examine the impacts of waste disposal at Hanford so we have greater confidence that future waste disposal will not increase the threat to the Columbia River," said Manning.
“With this agreement, both parties will be able to shift their focus and resources away from litigation and toward partnership and our shared cleanup goals,” said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in Washington, DC.
“The settlement of this lawsuit signals a new day in our cleanup efforts, where both the federal government and the state jointly address Hanford’s cleanup challenges and seek common ground and quality solutions," Bodman said.
The DOE says that with Washington state as a cooperating agency, it will prepare a new environmental impact statement that will include updated, site-wide groundwater analysis.
Under the agreement, DOE and the state of Washington agree that as a first step in implementing the settlement agreement, DOE, in consultation with the state, will hold public meetings and seek public input to finalize the scope of the new, comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.
DOE will prepare a new, expanded, comprehensive EIS that will combine the scope of the 2004 Solid Waste EIS and the ongoing Tank Closure EIS.
The state of Washington will have a significant role in establishing key analytic parameters for the new EIS, resolving issues, participating in reviews, and giving overall input as a cooperating agency.
DOE pledged not import waste from other sites pending the completion of the new, comprehensive EIS, except in certain limited instances to which the state has previously agreed. The exceptions are listed in the settlement agreement.
The current solid waste EIS will remain in place to ensure that ongoing cleanup operations continue. When completed, the new EIS will replace the existing solid waste EIS.
Both the settlement agreement and the results of the EIS Quality Assurance Review are available at http://www.em.doe.gov/.
The cleanup of the Hanford site is governed by a tripartite agreement between the Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington.
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