Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Jun 16 2004

OLYMPIA -- Attorney General Christine Gregoire today wrote to President Bush saying she continues to support the Hanford cleanup plan signed by state and federal officials in 1989, and said the federal government cannot declare those cleanup efforts a success "by simply lowering the bar."

In a letter to Bush, Gregoire also repeated an earlier suggestion that the federal government hold a national discussion on the issue of how best to dispose of radioactive waste at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities around the country. "These issues require comprehensive solutions and we need to work together, not against each other," Gregoire's letter said.

Gregoire expressed concern over DOE's attempts to solve the waste problem in part by redefining what constitutes high-level nuclear waste. Approximately 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste is stored in leaking underground tanks just seven miles from the Columbia River. An estimated 67 tanks have leaked over one million gallons into the ground, where it is seeping into the water table that leads to the Columbia River.

DOE is appealing a federal court decision that barred the department from unilaterally redefining high level waste, and has also sought to persuade Congress to give it the authority to redefine the waste. Negotiations between the state and DOE aimed at continuing Hanford tank waste cleanup efforts have been unsuccessful, the Gregoire letter said.

"The bottom line is this: the accelerated cleanup plan cannot depend on a shortened yardstick of success," Gregoire said. "We cannot allow the federal government to declare success by simply lowering the bar."

The letter was delivered to the president as state officials await an expected "record of decision" announcing that DOE intends to resume shipments of transuranic and low-level radioactive waste to Hanford from other nuclear complexes around the country. State officials continue to have serious concerns about DOE accountability in cleaning up the transuranic waste already improperly stored at the Hanford Reservation.

The department agreed to suspend additional transuranic waste shipments to Hanford after the state filed suit in March 2003 to halt further shipments.

As director of the state Department of Ecology, Gregoire was one of the signatories to the 1989 Tri Party agreement between the state, DOE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That agreement laid out a blueprint for Hanford cleanup efforts that the state continues to support today.

The letter to Bush is available here.