The governor of Washington State, a Democrat who is also seeking the presidency, on Wednesday pushed sharply back on the U.S. Department of Energy's decision to reinterpret the definition of high-level radioactive waste, material that has long been destined for isolation.
In joint statements, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson denounced the rule rework. The DOE plans to classify some nuclear waste by its radioactive risk and chemical composition – not just by its source or how it was produced.
"By taking this action, the administration seeks to cut out state input and move towards disposal options of their choosing, including those already deemed to be unsafe by their own assessments and in violation of the existing legally binding agreement," the two officials said. "We will consider all options to stop this reckless and dangerous action."
The new high-level waste interpretation would be applied piecemeal: site by site, waste by waste and after review, according to DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. The first – and only, at this point – waste being considered is wastewater produced at the Defense Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site, according to a government notice posted Wednesday.
Inslee oversees the state home to the Hanford Site, a nuclear reserve that for more than 40 years produced plutonium for the nation's defense programs. Pumping that plutonium out generated massive amounts of radioactive wastes.
Like SRS, millions of gallons of waste are stored in underground tanks at Hanford. And, also like SRS, Hanford is under the DOE Office of Environmental Management's purview and is targeted for remediation.
Cleanup at Hanford began decades ago. The efforts, costing billions and billions of dollars, are under intense scrutiny these days.
Dabbar has said the new interpretation of high-level radioactive waste could hasten cleanup in Washington, Idaho and South Carolina. Critics of the DOE's reinterpretation, though, are worried it will allow the department to cut corners.
Inslee and Ferguson together said Washington State would "not be sidelined" when it comes to remediating Hanford and protecting the proximate Columbia River.
Inslee announced his presidential candidacy in March, joining an already loaded Democratic field.