Olympia - March 23, 2001 - Attorney General Christine Gregoire today called for the preparation of legal action in the event the federal government breaks its promise to begin construction this summer on a facility to treat radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Reported cuts in the Department of Energy (DOE) budget could slash funding for cleanups nationwide by an estimated $425 million. To meet its obligations at Hanford, DOE would need an estimated increase of several hundred million dollars.
Gregoire said the DOE has a legally binding commitment to begin construction by July 31, 2001 on a facility that will convert liquid radioactive waste into more easily stored glass. While DOE has issued a contract for the work, it has not completed design of the facility and is unlikely to start construction on time with this budget scenario.
Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Gregoire have written letters to President Bush and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham urging them to raise budget requests to accurately reflect cleanup costs.
In addition, Gregoire circulated a letter that has been signed by attorneys general of 11 Western states, expressing their concern to Secretary Abraham about the budget situation.
"If we are going to clean up this waste in our lifetime, we must move forward now," Gregoire said. "We cannot and we will not allow the legacy of untreated nuclear waste to be left for yet another generation to cope with."
"The federal government has made commitments to timelines for the cleanup and it is irresponsible for the President to suggest cutting the funding needed to meet them," Locke said. "These wastes must be turned into glass and stored where they will pose no threat to the environment for the thousands of years during which they will remain radioactive."
Gregoire and Locke are most concerned about the likely delay in cleaning up 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste now stored in underground tanks, many of which are decades past their planned useful life.
About 1 million gallons already have leaked into the soil and contaminated groundwater that flows toward the Columbia River.
The DOE signed an agreement in 1989 with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology to clean up the dangerous waste at Hanford. Under the agreement, the state has the right to sue the federal government to force compliance with the cleanup timetable.