Federal Judge Blocks Future Waste Shipments
by Linda Ashton, Associated Press
YAKIMA, Wash. -- A federal judge this week temporarily barred the U.S. Department of Energy from sending radioactive trash from other states to the Hanford nuclear reservation. The order is in effect until there is a resolution of the lawsuit filed in March by the state of Washington against the Energy Department in an ongoing dispute over cleaning up radioactive waste at Hanford.
Gov. Gary Locke said he was pleased with the decision, but a spokesman for the Energy Department in Washington, D.C., said every day spent in court takes away from the Hanford cleanup.
The Energy Department wants to truck transuranic waste — plutonium-contaminated rags, tools, and other discarded items — from other sites for inspection and repacking at Hanford before shipping the barrels off to New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Transuranic waste is highly radioactive and can take thousands of years or more to decay to safe levels.
The state contends that under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Energy Department is required to do more study and evaluation and have more public involvement before such a decision can be made. The state sued the Energy Department after talks broke down over setting specific written plans for ensuring that both the transuranic waste already buried at Hanford and the imported waste would move on to New Mexico.
The Energy Department voluntarily suspended shipments of out-of-state waste to Hanford when the lawsuit was filed.
Locke fears the Energy Department would turn Hanford into a nuclear waste dump. The 586-square-mile reservation is already the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation after 40 years of making plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
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