Oregon to Join Hanford Cleanup Lawsuit

Oregon will seek to join Washington state in a lawsuit to speed the cleanup of radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, officials announced on Feb. 25.

"This suit is about compelling the federal government to uphold its commitment to protect fully our environment and our citizens," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said. "Further delay is unacceptable. The federal government must make this clean up a priority and meet its obligations to address the environmental and public health risks that the Hanford site continues to pose."

The agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Washington state's Department of Ecology requires the U.S. Department of Energy to stabilize 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste, much of it stored in 149 aging, leak-prone single-shell underground tanks.

The 1989 agreement initially called for the treatment plant to be operational by 1999. After repeated extensions, the Energy Department is still likely at least a decade away from the treatment facilities coming on line, Oregon officials said. Although most of the free liquids have been moved out of the single-shell tanks, about 30 million gallons of waste remains in these tanks and further delays in getting the treatment facilities operational greatly increases the risk of future leaks and further environmental harm.

Unable to agree on a new schedule for operating the treatment facilities and for retrieving waste from the older tanks, Washington last November filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Energy Department of failing to abide by the 1989 agreement. Oregon has filed papers seeking to join the suit.

Oregon has a strong interest in the cleanup because the Columbia River flows through the Hanford site. Clean-up delays increase the risk of serious environmental damage to the river.

"We're pleased that Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has joined us in this important lawsuit," Gov. Chris Gregoire stated. "The federal cleanup at Hanford has been far too slow in achieving the critical environmental results mandated in the three-party cleanup agreement, which the federal government committed to. Washington and Oregon depend on clean, safe water to support their economies and the health and well being of their citizens. In the Washington and Oregon counties south of Hanford, 57,000 companies rely on water to provide 780,000 jobs."

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