Washington state has authority to regulate mixed hazardous and transuranic wastes buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The decision upholds an order the state issued in 2003 that required the U.S. Department of Energy to remove and process the equivalent of about 75,000 55-gallon drums at Hanford. The waste has been stored in unlined trenches since the 1970s at the site near Richland.
“The federal court has upheld the state’s authority to protect its people and its resources from the extremely dangerous wastes that were buried decades ago at Hanford,” said Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology.
Hanford for decades made plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, an activity that generated a huge volume of toxic wastes. The Energy Department for years has been working to clean up those wastes.
The ruling does not cover the huge volume of highly radioactive wastes stored in giant tanks at the site.
Covered by the 9th Circuit decision are a variety of hazardous wastes, plus transuranic waste, which is artificially made radioactive material such as clothing, equipment and pipes that were contaminated both with plutonium and hazardous chemicals.
“We are very pleased that this ruling confirms the enforceability of an important element of the Hanford cleanup schedule,” state Attorney General Rob McKenna said.