Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Olympia - Attorney General Christine Gregoire today filed a request to take part in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Energy (D.O.E.) challenging whether D.O.E. can lower clean-up standards for some high-level waste at the Hanford site.

The subject of the lawsuit is a D.O.E. order issued in 1999 that would allow the agency to classify certain high-level radioactive wastes as "incidental to reprocessing." The issue is whether D.O.E. can unilaterally decide to manage the wastes under less stringent standards, potentially leaving the affected wastes in underground storage tanks rather than disposing of it in a deep geologic repository.

"No matter what you call it, this waste is among the most deadly substances known to humans and it will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years," Gregoire said. "We intend to make sure it is handled with the urgency and precaution that this health threat demands, not defined as "incidental" because it is too difficult or expensive to do what is right."

The lawsuit, which is being heard in U.S.. District Court in Boise, Idaho, was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Snake River Alliance and the Yakama Indian Nation.

Gregoire asked the judge to allow Washington to participate as an amicus curiae or "friend of the court" because of the state's deep interest in the clean-up and its expertise as a regulator.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation holds 60 percent of the nation's high-level radioactive waste.

The site contains 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste stored in 177 leak-prone underground storage tanks. One million gallons have already leaked into the ground and have begun to contaminate the groundwater that flows toward the Columbia River, just seven miles away.