YAKIMA — The Yakama Nation has filed a lawsuit challenging the state of Washington's actions to start construction of a cover over closed portions of private company US Ecology's waste disposal trenches at Hanford.
Heart of America Northwest Research Center has joined the Yakamas in the lawsuit filed in Yakima County Superior Court.
The state believes it has acted properly and that the Yakama Nation does not have a valid case, according to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.
The state has a lease from the federal government for 100 acres on the Hanford nuclear reservation subleased to US Ecology for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste from organizations such as universities, hospitals, biotech firms and electric utilities in western states.
The plaintiffs maintain that the landfill contains at least 220 pounds of plutonium 239 plus irradiated fuel segments and other spent nuclear fuel. It also may contain two high-level radioactive fuel rods disposed of at the site around 2003, the plaintiffs said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has specified that such wastes are not acceptable for disposal in burial grounds such as the US Ecology site, the plaintiffs said. In addition, DOE and the NRC are continuing to consider how greater than class C waste, including that in the landfill, should be disposed, the plaintiffs said.
The plaintiffs also maintain that the state has allowed US Ecology to begin to close part of the landfill without establishing a program to deal with releases of hazardous waste at the landfill or surrounding land.
The state said before a spring public meeting on a proposal to have the first layer of a cap over portions of the landfill built that the cover was intended to prevent water from driving contamination deeper into the soil or to the ground water.
However, a final decision on cleanup would not be made until later this year, it said.
The state failed to follow correct procedures to study contamination and adopt plans for the cover, the plaintiffs argued in their legal brief.
"Construction of the cover has the potential to interfere and preclude the choices of remedy or additional investigation," the plaintiffs said in their court filing.
They are asking the court to find that the state Department of Health acted unlawfully in telling US Ecology to start closing the landfill and to declare the decision invalid.
The court also should order the state to conduct a supplemental environmental study before taking further action, they said.
The state has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, and both sides are asking for attorney and other legal costs.
The Yakamas have historic ties to Hanford, and the nation's treaty rights include hunting, gathering food and fishing on Hanford land.
* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.