Morning Briefing - January 09, 2019
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January 09, 2019

Oregon, Wash. State Oppose New DOE Interpretation for High-Level Waste

By ExchangeMonitor

The states of Washington and Oregon have stated their formal opposition to a federal proposal for a new interpretation of the definition of high-level radioactive waste.

The Department of Energy is proposing to reconsider its interpretation of material classified as high-level radioactive waste, which requires disposal in a deep geological repository. The definition now is tied to the origin of the material, with high-level waste generated during the chemical reprocessing of irradiated fuel.

Oregon submitted comments on the plan to DOE in late December, followed by Washington state late Monday. Both keep a close eye on operations at the Hanford Site, home to a massive nuclear waste cleanup and waste management program near Richland, Wash.

“This is an attempt by the federal government to grant themselves the unilateral authority to leave high level radioactive waste in the ground at Hanford,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement this week. “This dangerous idea will only serve to silence the voices of tribal leaders, Hanford workers, public safety officials and surrounding communities in these important conversations.”

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson added that the proposal would reclassify high-level waste based on criteria not found in statute. He called it “dangerous and wrong.”

Supporters of the DOE plan, which includes the Hanford Communities coalition of local governments and the Tri-City Development Council near the former Washington state plutonium production complex, say waste should be classified as high level based on its risk and characteristics, not its point of origin. The two groups say allowing DOE to reclassify some waste could free up billions of dollars for pressing environmental cleanup at nuclear weapons sites.

In 11 pages of comments filed in late December, the Oregon Department of Energy said DOE should not be allowed to redefine waste without its current independent regulatory oversight from states and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“DOE’s institutional structure places it in the center of a conflict between its responsibility to ensure long-term safety from radiation and its interest in reducing the sizeable financial liability of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex cleanup,” Oregon said. “Oregon’s view is that the former must always prevail over the latter.”