Olympia - June 12, 2001 - The U.S. Department of Energy's proposed budget to clean up the nation's nuclear waste is inadequate and will unnecessarily cost taxpayers billions of dollars, Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire warned Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in a letter sent today.
"The federal government needs to fulfill its cleanup commitments just like anyone else," Gregoire said of the letter. "Hanford is one of the worst waste sites in the nation and Energy should set an example for responsibly cleaning up its mess."
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation holds 60 percent of the country's most highly radioactive waste in tanks that are decades past their expected lifespan. At least one million gallons of the waste have already leaked into the ground.
"Each day that we delay cleaning up contamination and decommissioning obsolete and dangerous contaminated facilities costs millions of dollars because it is just another day that DOE must continue to maintain the enormous 'mortgage' cost of keeping its facilities and the nuclear materials in them in a safe, secure and stable condition," the letter from Gregoire and nine other attorneys general said.
Additionally, delays will likely result in expensive court battles as states take legal action to force DOE to comply with existing agreements on cleanup deadlines.
DOE is obligated to begin construction of a nuclear waste glassification plant at Hanford this summer and to begin the actual process of turning the liquid waste into more easily storable glass by the end of 2007. Gregoire has instructed attorneys in her office to
begin preparation for legal action against DOE if it does not demonstrate the capacity to meet those deadlines.
"The Department not only has the responsibility to be a good steward of tax dollars, it also has the obligation to comply with the law," the AGs wrote. "Happily, these interests coincide in this case, because keeping cleanups on track … can save billions of dollars that would otherwise be wasted keeping the lights on in surplus, contaminated facilities."
The DOE has requested a reduction of approximately $58 million in its 2002 budget for nuclear cleanup at Hanford compared with this year's figures. To meet its obligations at the Hanford site, the department would need an increase of several hundred million dollars next year.
Today's letter to the Energy Secretary was signed by the attorneys general of Washington, Colorado, California, Idaho, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Oregon.
In the letter to Secretary Abraham, the AGs expressed skepticism that management reform or new technologies could make up for the substantial budget cuts he has requested.
The attorneys general also provided Abraham with recommendations on increasing efficiency at DOE cleanup sites and pledged to work with him to streamline management at the sites.