Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Mar 25 2004

OLYMPIA -- Attorney General Christine Gregoire today asked a federal appeals court to uphold a ruling which blocks U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) efforts to reclassify high-level radioactive waste in order to avoid disposing of it in a safe underground storage facility.

Gregoire and state attorneys for Oregon, Idaho, South Carolina, New Mexico, and New York made the argument in a "friend of the court" brief to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The brief, authored by Gregoire's office, asks the appeals court to uphold a lower-court decision that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires high level radioactive waste be permanently disposed in a geologically safe underground repository. The brief also asks the court to invalidate the portion of a DOE order which allows it to reclassify such waste.

DOE argues that federal law exempts the agency from the requirements of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and that it is under no obligation to dispose of defense high-level waste in a repository.

The lower-court ruling by a federal judge in Idaho last July invalidated the DOE order, which would have given the agency broad authority to redefine high-level radioactive waste as low-level and transuranic waste, which require less stringent disposal methods.The millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste subject to the DOE's decisions are managed in or near the five states which filed the brief.

"The problem of safely disposing of dangerous radioactive waste cannot be solved by simply issuing an order redefining the problem," Gregoire said. "We have joined with other affected states to ensure that DOE abides by the intent of Congress to ensure that citizens and the environment are protected."

In Washington, there are approximately 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste located at the Hanford Reservation. The waste is stored in 177 aging underground tanks. More than 1 million gallons of waste has already leaked from Hanford's tanks, contaminating the surrounding soil and groundwater, and threatening the Columbia River.

Copies of the brief can be obtained here.