Feds Retain Authority over Nuclear Waste

Four years after nearly 70 percent of Washington voters approved a measure to bar the import of radioactive and hazardous waste to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 21 agreed with the lower court and struck down the measure.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was disappointed in the decision but noted it "doesn't limit our ability to require cleanup at Hanford under other existing laws and the Tri-Party Agreement. I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that Hanford is cleaned up in a manner that protects our citizens and the Columbia River."

The 586-square-mile Hanford site is located along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington. A plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and associated processing facilities, Hanford played a pivotal role in the nation's defense for more than 40 years, beginning in the 1940s with the Manhattan Project.

Currently, under the direction of the U.S. Department of Energy, Hanford is engaged in the world's largest environmental cleanup project, with a number of overlapping technical, political, regulatory, financial, and cultural issues.

Physical challenges at the Hanford Site include more than 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemically hazardous waste in 177 underground storage tanks, 2,300 tons of spent nuclear fuel, 9 tons of plutonium in various forms, about 25 million cubic feet of buried or stored solid waste, and groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread out over about 80 square miles, more than 1,700 waste sites, and about 500 contaminated facilities.

In May 1989, DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington state Department of Ecology signed the landmark Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order, commonly known as the Tri-Party Agreement.  The TPA outlines legally enforceable milestones for Hanford cleanup over the next several decades.

DOE has two federal offices at Hanford -- the Richland Operations Office and the Office of River Protection -- each of which oversees separate contracts held by private companies. With a workforce of approximately 11,000 and an annual budget of about $1.8 billion dollars in fiscal year 2005, Hanford cleanup operations are expected to be complete by 2035.

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