Washington Sues DOE to Halt Waste Shipments to Hanford

New Report Questions Radiation and Human Health Computer Models

* Washington state filed suit against the Department of Energy (or DOE) recently in order to halt shipments of transuranic waste into the state after DOE failed to comply with a shipping agreement that the two parties made last year.

Last December, Washington agreed to accept 170 barrels of waste in exchange for a timeline by which DOE must remove the thousands of barrels of buried waste already stored at Hanford. The site has accepted 40 barrels from other states as a show of good faith, but DOE has yet to produce a timeline, although it was supposed to be completed by March 1st.

Also, Tom Fitzsimmons, head of Washington's Ecology Department, opted to create a timeline himself for DOE to remove Hanford's waste. Due to a 1989 agreement, Fitzsimmons has the authority to establish deadlines for waste removal if the state and DOE cannot come to agreement about the timeline. Washington and DOE had been discussing the deadlines for several years, but discussions broke down at the end of February, spurring Washington to establish the deadlines for removing the transuranic waste itself.

Transuranic waste is radioactive waste, which is contaminated with neptunium and plutonium and other radionuclides. The waste from other states was to be checked and repacked at Hanford before being shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, along with Hanford's own waste.

Communities surrounding Hanford say that DOEšs refusal to comply with the agreement has inspired further mistrust by the residents of the Hanford area. An editorial from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said, "The residents of Washington have a long history of promises from DOE and a long history of watching those promises come to naught.... It does not inspire confidence that DOE has squandered a two-month opportunity to show how committed it is to removing radioactive waste from this state."

* A new report released by the European Committee on Radiation Risk criticizes current computer models that estimate the risk of radiation to human health. The report is a response to recent claims that the model for radiation risk currently used by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (or ICRP) is inadequate for predicting irradiation.

The report found that the model employed by ICRP does not adequately account for risk to individuals because it averages risk over an entire genetically variable population. Furthermore, the ICRP model accounts only for external radiation exposure, and not internal exposure. The report likens this difference to, "a man warming himself in front of a fire and a man eating a red hot coal."

The report recommends that all new nuclear practices be justified by considering the rights of all affected individuals, and that the total consequences of radioactive discharge be assessed for both direct and indirect effects on living systems. Cindy Folkers, of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said, "If society is ever going to have a proper debate on the effects of low-doses and dose rates of ionizing radiation, it must challenge the very basis of radiation dose and risk assessment."

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