Aug. 22, 2002
For immediate release
The Snake River Alliance today asked the US Department of Energy not to implement a recent decision to leave highly radioactive sediments permanently in underground tanks at the Savannah River nuclear weapons site in South Carolina. The Idaho nuclear watchdog wants the DOE to give the federal district court in Boise a chance to rule on the group’s request to stop the DOE from cementing high-level waste in tanks in the ground at Washington, South Carolina and Idaho.
The DOE on Aug. 9 signed a record of decision (ROD) to proceed with a plan at its Savannah River site to leave 49 high-level waste tanks in the ground after filling them with grout to “stabilize” rather than remove highly radioactive sediments. The ROD, published in the Federal Register on Aug. 19, was signed in Washington, DC on the same day that a federal judge in Boise denied a DOE motion to dismiss a lawsuit asking the court to stop the very type of activity the ROD would authorize.
“We are hopeful that we can work this out with the DOE without having to go to the court,” said Geoff Fettus, a Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer handling the case for the Alliance, and the Yakama and Shoshone-Bannock tribes. The parties have asked the DOE to provide a schedule of its plans to implement its Aug. 9 decision as well as to agree not to implement the decision until the court has decided the merits of their lawsuit. They requested a DOE response by Sept. 9 and said they will explore all legal options should the DOE fail to agree to their requests.
“What the DOE is attempting in South Carolina is what it is planning to do in Idaho and Washington,” said Gary Richardson, executive director of the Snake River Alliance. “It is important that it not be allowed to proceed until the merits of our case are decided in court.”
The Alliance has argued that the DOE’s attempt to reclassify high-level radioactive waste as “incidental to reprocessing” would use an illegally low standard for cleaning up some 100 million gallons of the nation's most highly radioactive waste. The DOE is required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to bury all of its high-level radioactive waste deep underground in a geologic repository. Leaving the waste in tanks and covering it in concrete would ensure it would eventually leach into the Snake River Aquifer in Idaho, the Columbia River in Washington, and the groundwater at the Savannah River site.
The Snake River Alliance is an Idaho-based grassroots group working through research, education, and community advocacy for peace and justice, the end of nuclear weapons production activities, and responsible solutions to nuclear waste and contamination.