28 October 2009

Major Victory: Moratorium on off-site waste at Hanford now includes "GTCC"!

Major victory by Heart of America Northwest as USDOE announced at last night's hearing that the "moratorium" on sending off-site waste to Hanford will now include "Greater Than Class C" (GTCC) wastes - the most radioactive "low level waste" that exists!!!  (GTCC waste is as radioactive as High-Level spent fuel) At Monday's hearing in Hood River, USDOE and WA were still defending their private agreement to allow GTCC waste to be buried at Hanford, and the public comments reflected outrage over this. 

USDOE announced it would include GTCC waste in its promised moratorium on shipping waste to Hanford during the Portland meeting last night.  USDOE clearly did not want to hear all of the comments objecting all over again, and USDOE wanted to head off additional news coverage which we were encouraging!

USDOE has a formal proposal underway under which Hanford would be used to bury extremely radioactive wastes, GTCC, with as much as 75% of all the radioactivity as is in Hanford's High-Level Nuclear Waste Tanks. So, while we fight to get USDOE to empty those tanks, if GTCC wastes are buried at Hanford, USDOE would add to Hanford landfills (which will leak) nearly as much radioactivity as we are fighting to have USDOE empty from the tanks.  

The private agreement between WA State and USDOE to allow disposal of extremely radioactive wastes in landfills at Hanford (GTCC) was exposed by our research, which was relied on Sunday's article in the Oregonian.  In early October, Gerry Pollet found a presentation by a top ranking Energy Department official clearly indicating that use of Hanford to dispose of GTCC wastes was not part of the publicly announced moratorium on waste import agreed to between WA and USDOE as part of WA State's settlement of litigation. Statements issued by the States of OR and WA and USDOE in August appeared to be for an unenforceable moratorium on waste import to Hanford until the vitrification plant is operating, to be adopted voluntarily by USDOE covering all wastes.

On October 6th, at a USDOE-State workshop held to review the proposed settlement and delays to cleanup, Gerry asked the USDOE and WA State attorneys if the moratorium included GTCC wastes. The State and USDOE responded that they had privately agreed to exclude those wastes from the moratorium. This was a major breach of trust, as the public documents failed to include any mention that GTCC wastes were not part of the publicly touted promise (totally unenforceable) by USDOE not to import more waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is "operational" (slated for 2022).

We worked with Scott Learn of The Oregonian to break this story in the media, which was done with a front page Metro article on Sunday heading into the public hearings on the proposed settlement and TPA changes in Hood River on Monday and Portland on Tuesday. At the Hood River hearing, every single public comment included an urge that the state insist that there be an ENFORCEABLE ban on USDOE dumping more waste at Hanford while existing wastes are out of compliance and not cleaned up, and chastising USDOE and WA State for privately agreeing to have an exception to the announced unenforceable moratorium on import for GTCC highly radioactive waste.

The pressure and embarrassment on USDOE's part was apparently too great - they started the Portland hearing with an unclear saying that GTCC waste shouldn't be discussed by the public at the hearing. Only part way into the hearing, as many people objected to the lack of an enforceable ban on USDOE adding more waste to Hanford and the private deal excluding GTCC waste from even USDOE's voluntary unenforceable promise, did USDOE finally make clear that it had decided to expand the voluntary moratorium to include the most radioactive wastes which it had hoped to send to Hanford in the coming years.

This is a major victory for our organizing and research efforts. However, our work is not done. Remember, this is still not an enforceable moratorium on adding waste to Hanford. It is only a promise to include in the upcoming EIS a preferred alternative with no import of waste to Hanford until the vitrification plant is operational. Many people last night praised the reversal by USDOE but urged WA State to not sign any agreement that does not make this commitment enforceable in the TPA or Consent Decree. USDOE has not been able to answer the basic question of why USDOE is not willing to make its promise an enforceable part of the TPA or consent decree if USDOE intends to honor a moratorium on waste import to Hanford.


  1. The question of why Washington and the USDOE will not commit to an enforceable strategy still boggles my mind. They are making all these promises and statements, but without being able to enforce them, they are hardly reliable. Also, the secrecy issue floating around should stop immediately. The public has a right now know what is and is not included in these settlements, without having to go digging around for their own research. Hanford was clearly much more problematic decades ago due to the secret information between representatives and the public.

  2. This just shows that hard work DOES pay off! The next step should definately be to mobilize efforts in order to federally enforce these moratoriums.