Federal Judge Edward Shea has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Heart of America Northwest against the Department of Energy over proposals to send radioactive waste to Hanford for disposal or storage.
Heart of America members now are not being harmed, so do not have standing to bring a lawsuit, the judge ruled in Eastern Washington District U.S. Court in a written decision Friday.
DOE argued that it had committed in a 2006 settlement agreement with the state of Washington not to import off-site radioactive waste to Hanford at least until a decision is issued based on a forthcoming study.
A draft of that study, the Hanford Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, was released in October 2009 and a decision could be issued in 2012 after the final version of the study is released.
There is no allegation that DOE is importing low level radioactive waste or mixed low level radioactive waste in violation of the agreement, Shea wrote.
The 2009 draft study proposes extending a 2005 ban on importing most types of waste to Hanford longer than the current settlement agreement covers. It proposes extending the ban at least until the Hanford vitrification plant is operating fully, which is estimated to be in 2022. The $12.2 billion plant is being built to treat much of Hanford's worst wastes.
Any harm to the members of Heart of America would occur, if at all, only if a future decision is made to import waste to Hanford, DOE said in court documents.
"A challenge to such a hypothetical future decision, if such a decision is ever made, is not yet ripe" for consideration by the court, DOE said in court documents.
Heart of America, a Seattle-based Hanford watchdog group, argued that DOE had not withdrawn its 2004 decision to send up to 107,000 cubic yards of low level and mixed low level waste to Hanford. The decision was based on an environmental study that was found to contain errors in 2005, and DOE responded by canceling waste shipments to Hanford. It also said a new study would be done.
The new study must "have detailed information on significant environmental impacts," Shea wrote.
Heart of America has argued that the draft 2009 study did not look at the same fundamental issue as the 2004 environmental study -- whether imported waste could be buried at Hanford. Instead it looked only at where imported waste could be buried at Hanford, according to Heart of America.
The draft 2009 study continues to rely on the flawed 2004 study, Heart of America argued.
"Such reliance is arbitrary and capricious" and a violation of federal environmental laws requiring a thorough look at environmental impacts of importing waste, the lawsuit said.
Shea said during a hearing in Spokane earlier this week that he was dismissing the lawsuit and his written ruling Friday expanded on the decision.
Although the lawsuit was dismissed, Heart of America was pleased that the judge found that even though the group was not a party in the 2006 settlement agreement, it can pursue litigation if DOE does not abide by the decision and the state elects not to litigate.
"The department is pleased Judge Shea agreed with the government's position that the complaint filed by Heart of America should be dismissed," DOE said in a statement. "DOE is not shipping waste from other environmental cleanup sites to Hanford now and has no plans to do so."
This is not the end of the issue, said Gerald Pollet, executive director of Heart of America, after the ruling.
At meetings to discuss Hanford concerns, the public asks how DOE can clean up the nuclear reservation when it continues to plan to add more waste, he said.
"This is going to continue to be the public's top concern until the Energy Department simply withdraws the decision to use Hanford as a waste dump," he said.