From Mike McGavick, Monday, October 9, 2006
RICHLAND, Wash. — The federal government has dropped its appeal of a $270,000 fine over the handling of radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation, two years after the fine was first imposed.
The issue arose in 2004 when the Department of Energy shipped 83 drums of laboratory equipment, protective clothing and other debris, which was contaminated with Hanford waste, to Hanford from South Carolina’s Savannah River National Laboratory.
The laboratory had tested treatment methods on waste samples from Hanford’s underground tanks, which hold 53 million gallons of hazardous chemical and radioactive waste left from decades of plutonium production for the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Federal law allows the waste to be shipped to South Carolina for study and returned to Hanford, exempting it from provisions of state and federal hazardous-waste regulations. But the state contends those exemptions do not apply to waste generated at Savannah River – debris such as equipment, clothing and supplies that may have been contaminated in the testing process.
Waste brought to Hanford also falls under state regulations for hazardous waste, which mirror federal regulations, state officials said.
The state fined the Energy Department and two contractors for not following regulations, which include requiring trained workers observe the packing of the drums, verify the type of waste and place a tamper-resistant seal on the drums.
The Energy Department contended that the waste produced during laboratory testing could be returned to Hanford under an exemption that allows waste residue to be returned after offsite testing.
However, the agency has dropped its appeal of the fine.
“We felt it was time to move on,” said Colleen French, an Energy Department spokeswoman.
The Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board had agreed with the state Department of Ecology, finding in a summary judgment ruling that the 83 drums could not be considered residues from the original waste stream.
The penalty was the largest ever that the state had issued to the Energy Department, which manages cleanup of the highly contaminated Hanford site. The fine was paid by Fluor Hanford, a contractor hired to clean up parts of the site. The Energy Department still must consider whether it is a reimbursable cost under Fluor’s contract.