In the struggle to clean up nuclear waste left by weapons programs and power plants, the West’s men in black robes are ganging up on the U.S. Department of Energy. So far this year, ruling in environmentalist lawsuits, no fewer than three federal judges have ordered the department to do a more careful job.
On March 31, District Judge Edwin Lodge in Boise
ruled that the Energy Department can’t merely bury 900,000
gallons of plutonium-contaminated waste at the Idaho National
Engineering and Environmental Laboratory near Idaho Falls.
Then, on May 9, District Judge Alan McDonald in Washington ordered
the Energy Department to temporarily stop shipping out-of-state
transuranic nuclear waste to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation
southwest of Spokane.
And on July 2, District Judge B.
Lynn Winmill in Boise ruled that the Energy Department is taking
illegal shortcuts at the Idaho lab and where the Hanford tanks are
leaking radioactive waste into groundwater and the Columbia River.
Winmill said the department can’t merely reclassify wastes as
“incidental” to avoid moving them to a safer site (HCN,
11/11/02: Feds find shortcuts in nuclear cleanup).
“It’s a clear statement by the courts — the
high-level wastes buried in large storage tanks have to come out of
the ground,” says Jeremy Maxand, director of the Snake River
Alliance, one of the plaintiffs.
But Energy Secretary
Spencer Abraham isn’t content to accept Winmill’s
ruling. On Aug. 1, Abraham sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis
Hastert, R-Ill., asking Congress to amend the Nuclear Waste Policy
Act so the Energy Department can get its way.